Mayors Fear Effects of Teen-Age Unemployment, Dropouts
A survey of youth unemployment, conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and released last week, reveals that officials in more than half of the nation's major cities are bracing themselves for the worst this summer because of unprecedented unemployment rates among teenagers that threaten to rise even higher as job opportunities dwindle.
City officials also expect the problem to increase the rate of dropouts from schools and contribute to even greater unemployment in the future.
While few cities linked the employment problem among teenagers directly with "the potential for large-scale violence," more than half the officials surveyed "expressed the fear that youth crime in one form or another would increase in the summer as a result of the cutbacks in summer youth employment."
"Any time you have a large number of youths on the streets, you can expect increased criminal activity and civil unrest," a Detroit official explained in the survey report.
The survey of 125 cities, conducted in response to a request from the Congressional Joint Economic Commttee, found that the unemployment rate among youths, the highest since World War II, averaged nearly 23 percent and that three out of four cities had unemployment rates of between 11 and 30 percent among their young people.
For minority youths, according to "Youth Unemployment in the Summer of '82," the rate was more than 80 percent in several cities, but ranged between 21 percent and 60 percent in three out of four cities.
Those distressing statistics, according to the survey's results, are not expected to turn downward soon. The summer-employment outlook appears even bleaker, with the majority of the city officials predicting an increase in juvenile crime and in school dropouts, as a result.
Nearly 90 percent of the cities concluded that more than 50,000 fewer teenagers will be employed this year than last year because of the Reagan Administration's program cuts. Many critics fought those cuts on the grounds that they would worsen the nation's record unemployment rate among teen-agers.
One such program under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act that expires Sept. 30--the Summer Youth Employment Program (syep)--has been reduced by about 14 percent, from $799 million to about $685 million. Among the surveyed cities, the $206.5-million allocation for the summer-jobs program amounts to a reduction of $41 million or 16 percent.
And, according to 110 of the city officials who responded to the survey, the program reduction will mean that 1.35 million teen-agers will not have summer jobs despite private-sector efforts.
The problem is exacerbated, according to the survey, by the inability of local government officials to offset the shortfall with local funds. Of the 125 cities surveyed, only about 16, or 13 percent, could identify "other public funding sources."
A significant number of cities also anticipate that the unemployment situation will have long-term effects. Nearly one in four cities expects the summer employment problem to produce more school dropouts and to contribute to long-term unemployment, according to the survey.
"In most cases, officials believe that the need for money will force young people out of school to look for work and that the lack of money this summer will discourage them from returning to school in the fall," the survey report noted.
A Baltimore official added that the cut in federal programs will pose a "severe hardship" for students who must help support their families and earn funds for school. "Lack of money to prepare for a return to school is the second part of the problem for disadvantaged youth," many of whom, according to a Savannah, Ga., official cited in the survey, will be "too embarrassed to return to school."
The unemployment rates reported in the survey, according to Andrew M. Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, exceed those recorded after World War II, when the unemployment rate for white and minority teen-agers was below 20 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
Allocation of More Money
Mr. Sum, who has been working with the Educational Testing Service (ets) on an evaluation of federally sponsored youth-employment programs, agrees with a proposal submitted to the Congress by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to allocate even more money for summer jobs.
"While subsidized employment opportunities may be somewhat less desirable than unsubsidized jobs for youths, there is no conceivable alternative strategy for directly, immediately, and substantially increasing employment opportunities for youth than an expanded syep during the summer of 1982," Mr. Sum said in a position paper presented at an ets seminar last month.