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G.A.O. Links Youth Unemployment To Rules Penalizing Welfare

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Washington--Unemployment among disadvantaged youths could be reduced, according to a recently released report by the General Accounting Office (gao), if federal regulations did not penalize welfare families with working teen-age members.

Drawing on the results of existing studies, the gao's report concludes that the practice of reducing a family's welfare payments to account for the earnings of teen-agers who drop out of school discourages those teen-agers from working. It also notes that a family's welfare payments are not affected when extra income is earned by teen-agers who remain in school.

Since a greater percentage of black families receive welfare assistance, black teen-agers, the report explains, are more likely to be affected by such "work disincentives."

For that reason, it suggests that the difference in the unemployment rates of black and white teen-agers, which developed in the 1950's but widened dramatically in the late 1960's, may be due to the sharp rise in the percentage of black teen-agers in welfare households.

As a means of correcting the problem, the report recommends that federal regulations ignore the earnings of all teen-agers when determining welfare payments.

The agency's report, undertaken at the request of Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, was completed in March and released this month.

In its attempt to determine the extent and severity of unemployment problems among teen-agers, the report addresses a number of issues considered to be linked with unemployment.

The gao researchers estimate that there are approximately 926,000 disadvantaged youths between the ages of 16 and 21 who need some form of employment and training assistance.

Three Categories

They divide that group into three categories reflecting the type of problem the young men and women face: 184,000, the report says, have the requisite skills but are in need of a job; 644,000--the largest group--are currently unemployable and need help in improving their basic skills if they are to become employable; and 134,000 could be employed and need jobs, but also need remedial services to upgrade the skills they now have.

Among the issues raised in the report in connection with that assessment are the following:

Measured Unemployment Rate. Because of the variations in employment and training needs, the report concludes that "the high measured rate of teen-age unemployment does not accurately indicate either the degree or type of labor-market problems facing teen-agers." The report suggests that those who seek to develop employment and training programs should look closely at the educational achievement, labor-force status, and demographic characteristics of the teen-agers to be served.

Employment and Training Programs. The report concluded that federally sponsored employment programs do not address teen-agers who lack basic skills, but are instead geared towards "job ready" teen-agers.

This approach has "very little effect on the overall rate of teen-age unemployment," according to the report, because these "job ready" teen-agers hired by the government programs would most likely, because of their skills, find private-sector jobs on their own.

A better approach, according to the report, would be to establish federal training programs that emphasize improving basic skills. Such a shift in federal policy would have long-term employment benefits and could reduce the unemployment rate.

Teen-agers and Crime. The available research suggests that the evidence linking teen-age unemployment with crime is inconclusive, according to the report. The more significant factor linking the two, it suggests, may be intense frustration. "Being unable to qualify for a job would appear to be ... much more conducive to criminal behavior."

The report's writers argue that a teen-ager qualified for a job "might be driven" to commit a crime by a "moderately difficult" period of unemployment.

And teen-agers with high aspirations might be "tempted" to commit a crime if "faced with a lifetime of modest-paying jobs."

Although the report concludes that poor basic skills contribute significantly to the employment problems of teen-agers, it does not point to any specific programs or policy changes, other than changing the disincentive situation of welfare youths, to remedy the problem.

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