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Key First Job or Make-Work? Value of Summer Program Debated

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10:30 A.M. The Cleveland Public Theater. Inside a dark, hot studio, instructor Dan Gangloff is leading a group of teenagers through a warm-up.

They hum a tune, dance, and clap in unison--an exercise intended to help them project their voices while they are moving around the stage. "Keep listening for the changes," Mr. Gangloff says to them. "Pay attention to your partner. Who's next to you? What sound are they making?"

Noon. Fairfax Recreation Center. Teacher Al Cardwell is tutoring 10 students, reviewing basic mathematics problems with them. Across the room from the math session, a dozen students sit at a bank of terminals, many playing computerized games of solitaire, Monopoly, or chess.

2:30 P.M. Nasa Lewis Research Center. Jets coming and going at a nearby airport thunder overhead. Jervonne Flowers, 17, is wearing a white lab coat. She is cleaning equipment that will be used in an experiment on a future space-shuttle mission.

4:30 P.M. The Society/Key Corporation headquarters. Jeanette Hatcher and James Johnson, both 16, sit in the cool, hushed office on the 12th floor of the banking company's headquarters, stapling and folding forms for a mass mailing to the company's 30,000 employees and 10,000 retirees.

A Working Future?

Young people are part of these and other workplaces across Cleveland this summer. The city is one of 653 of the so-called local-service-delivery areas in the federal summer-jobs program this year. Across the nation, 615,000 young people, ages 14 to 21, are working for government agencies and nonprofit organizations, their salaries paid under the federal Job Training Partnership Act.

Three years ago, Congress approved a $2 billion emergency urban-aid package that included $675 million for summer jobs for youths. The next year, U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich announced that the program would be bolstered with 90 hours of academic enrichment or remediation.

But criticism of the summer-jobs program has been mounting, and it now faces an uncertain future. Though this summer's nearly $900 million program was spared, both chambers of Congress have slated the program for elimination in fiscal 1996. However, the program could be revived in budget debate this summer.

Critics say that the program wastes federal resources on make-work jobs. And some say federal dollars might better be spent on tax incentives for private businesses to hire more low-income teenagers.

Providing First Jobs

The summer-jobs program started in the late 1960's and was intended to stem urban unrest by giving young people something to do and some money to spend.

"It's a first job for many young people, particularly poor people in urban and rural areas," said Alan Zuckerman, the executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition in Washington. This is no small feat, he said, given that many youths are not finding their first jobs until a later and later age.

The income criteria to qualify for the program are tight. In fact, some young people who live in public housing do not qualify, according to Robin Fernkas, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Private Industry Councils. In Cleveland, the cutoff for a family of two is an annual income of $8,000, and for a family of six it is $23,000.

In order to receive J.T.P.A. funding, local jurisdictions must form a private-industry council made up of private-sector leaders; representatives of education, labor, community-based organizations; and others. Funding is allocated through a formula based on poverty levels and the size of the youth population.

In Cleveland, the program lasts six weeks, and participants earn $4.50 to $5 an hour. This summer, 4,684 youths applied for jobs, and the city was able to place 2,800 of them.

Private-sector employers, such as Society/Key Corporation, provided an additional 90 jobs.

The office jobs that Ms. Hatcher and Mr. Johnson have at the Society/Key Corporation are typical of the summer assignments most program participants receive: They spend their days filing and performing other clerical tasks in the human-resource department.

Others have more occupation-specific jobs. Ms. Flowers, a participant in the public program, is working closely with a technician in the microgravity science and applications division at the nasa center.

Her supervisor, Carmela Bynum, got her start through a similar summer-jobs program while she was in high school. It opened up new career possibilities, and she was hired full time in 1978. "I was going to go work at the Ford plant," Ms. Bynum said, "but I had more potential here than I would have had there."

Jerome Anderson is another former program participant who has returned as an instructor. Mr. Anderson, a 1993 graduate of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is directing a Cleveland Public Theater production of a play he wrote, "Concrete Wonderland," an adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. And, he said, putting on a play is harder work than some of the jobs he did in the program, such as cleaning up parks.

"This is something that requires concentration; it requires you to think," he said.

One participant, Andria Morris, 16, a junior at John F. Kennedy High School, said she wants to follow in the footsteps of a cousin who is studying drama at Howard University in Washington.

But not everyone who participates in the jobs program feels challenged. DaShante Taylor, 17, a senior at Jane Addams High School, was assigned to perform custodial work and serve lunch to children at the Fairfax Recreation Center. Ms. Taylor said that she and her co-workers usually only work about two hours in their six-hour shift. They spend the rest of the time playing cards or lifting weights.

Supply and Demand

In recent years, summer jobs have fallen short of demand, according to Steven J. Golightly, the vice president of corporate client services at the National Alliance of Business. "In 1984 and 1985, we could service locally every kid who came in and applied," said Mr. Golightly, who is also the president of the private-industry council in Alexandria, Va. "There isn't one PIC in this country that is able to serve the number of kids they wanted to earlier this spring."

Local leaders are struggling with the question, "'Do I serve more young people, or do I serve fewer people better?"' Mr. Zuckerman said.

"The quality of supervision, and the quality of the work that young people do is critical," he said. "Good programs are run like a business: They keep young people work~-ing. ... But all of that takes more administrative overhead and planning and organization, and that's hard to do when the funding comes late and is not assured."

The $4.4 million Cleveland program is paid for entirely with federal dollars, according to Miguel Torres, the human-resource administrator at the Cleveland Department of Personnel and Human Resources.

If Congress votes to eliminate the funding, Mr. Torres said he will look to the private sector to maintain at least 50 percent of the jobs.

Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson, the drama instructor, worries about what such cuts would mean for young people in Cleveland next year.

"I don't know what the thinking is in Washington right now," he said. "This program does translate into a lot more peace of mind for the parents, and the kids--they worry if they are going to have something constructive to do."

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