Teens Face the Prospect of a Summer Without Jobs
NEW YORK — WITH most teens still pulling on long johns and pondering the implications of Magic Johnson's return, a summer job isn't exactly top of mind.
But America's urban mayors are thinking about a summer of rising juvenile crime and the prospect of no federal funding for a program that created 615,000 jobs for youths last year. They are deep into the planning of how to replace the lost funds and employ thousands of teens who may have too much time of their hands during July and August.
The predicted shortfall is already producing changes. In Louisville, Ky., for example, older teens will get first pick of city jobs. In Philadelphia, officials will let local schools decide which youths will get jobs this summer. To get a city-sponsored job in Rochester, N.Y., a teenager will have to maintain a C-average in school and avoid disciplinary problems.
Many cities are turning to the private sector for help. But mayors now only expect to be able to fund about half as many jobs as last year.
The summer job drought is the result of Congress's apparent decision to end the 30-year-old Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) program, which last year provided about $1 billion. ''There is no compelling reason for the federal government to keep funding it,'' said the report from the House Appropriations Committee.
Mayor William Johnson (D) of Rochester says he was ''amazed at the opposition to this program,'' when he testified before Congress. The opposition, particularly in the Senate, caught the US Conference of Mayors off guard. After the House eliminated funding for the project, the group expected the Senate would reinstate the funds in its appropriations bill. But the Senate also zeroed out the funding. ''Folks seem to have this overwhelming feeling that programs for youth don't work,'' says Joan Crigger at the US Conference of Mayors in Washington.
Many mayors say Congress is making a mistake. Mayor Wellington Webb (D) of Denver says that if a study is done, it would show the cutbacks will boost juvenile crime. ''I hope we don't [have to] make policy by getting a body count of how many young people get killed in order to get a jobs program,'' he says.
BUT even the Department of Labor, which ran the program in the past, said change was needed. In guidelines to the cities, Labor Secretary Robert Reich has encouraged a strong education component.
In fact, Rochester Mayor William Johnson has already decided that holding out the carrot of a summer job might be one way to motivate teens to get better grades. ''The link of work in summer and work in school is a very good link,'' he says.
Some mayors have also used the program to help teenagers learn about work habits. In Denver, teenagers attend ''World of Work'' training sessions. Once teens arrive on the job, they are assigned a mentor. If the teens don't show up, they don't get paid. If they are late, wages are deducted from their check.
With the prospect that the federal funding will disappear or shrink, mayors are trying to get funding from the business community. On Jan. 31, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R) appointed Arnold Burns to try to wrestle jobs from the Big Apple's beleaguered corporations. ''Our job is to energize the business sector,'' says Mr. Burns.
This will be a challenge. Last year, the New York business community provided about 10,000 summer jobs for teenagers, while the city supplied 32,000 jobs with the $35 million it received from the government. This year, the business community does not expect to provide many more jobs than last year and the city can contribute only $6 million.
''It's very difficult to find jobs for kids in an economy where people are downsizing and laying people off,'' says Barbara Lorber at New York City Partnership, which comprises 200 chief executive officers.
Even in cities that have an active business community, the number of summer jobs for teens is expected to decrease. Last year, Philadelphia had enough funding for 10,000 summer jobs. This year, it hopes to raise enough money for 5,000 jobs. With Philadelphia and other cities concentrating on jobs for older teens, employment for 14- to 16-year olds could be scarce. ''It's unfortunate not to have as many opportunities for the younger kids; they are the ones who create other problems if they don't have something constructive to do,'' says Pam Anderson, executive director of the Louisville and Jefferson County (Ky.) Private Industry Council.
Since Congress has yet to pass the appropriations bill for the Labor Department there's an outside chance some money may be restored for the program. In fact, both Philadelphia and Denver are drawing up two sets of plans - one for congressional funding and one for going it alone.