In Wake of L.A. Riots, Finding Money For Summer Jobs Seen as Top Priority

By Meg Sommerfeld — June 17, 1992 6 min read

Employment and recreation programs for urban teenagers that saw their budgets slashed during the recession are getting more attention and, in some cases, more money-in the wake of the Los Angeles riot.

Officials in eight cities said in interviews last week that, while local budgets for such programs are tight, they hope to keep services at levels comparable to last year.

The outlook for more aid from the federal government remains clouded, however.

On June 5, a Congressional conference committee approved a $2- billion emergency urban-aid bill that included $675 million for summer jobs, an amount sufficient to potentially double the number of jobs available for teenagers.

Cities may have to wait for the aid because President Bush has said he will veto the bill. He had asked the Congress to allocate only $500 million for summer jobs.

If the aid stays tied up much longer, municipal officials warned last week, it will be tough for them to boost the number of teenagers with jobs this summer.

“Quite frankly, I think if this doesn’t happen by the end of this week, we are facing major problems in getting this going,” Walther Delgado, the associate commissioner of the New York City department of employment, said last week. His agency plans to start its summer jobs program June 29.

“If additional allocations are going to be made for the summer youth-employment programs, Congress must move very quickly so that we can use those funds to benefit the youth to the maximum,” added Susan Fincke, a spokesman for Chicago’s summer-jobs program.

City officials said that getting the money on such short notice will give them little time to locate jobs and match them with teenagers.

Getting this money quickly is “the key complication,” according to Mr. Delgado. “We want not only to provide the opportunity, but to provide good. working opportunities,” he said.

National Outlook

Nationally, the number of teenagers in the labor force is expected to fall for the third summer in a row, largely as a result of demographic changes and the economic downturn, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds actively seeking employment was 20 percent in May.

City officials say they expect to see more teenagers coming to them for work because the recession has cut the number of such traditional private-sector summer jobs as lifeguarding or working in a fast-food restaurant.

In addition, many unemployed adults are competing for the same entry-level jobs as teenagers. “There are a lot of adults out there willing to work for less money,” Ms. Fincke of Chicago said.

Gretchen Decker, a spokesman for Manpower Inc., a Milwaukee-based temporary-employment agency, observed that more and more highly qualified college graduates are seeking work at her firm.

Those teenagers who are able to land jobs this summer can also expect to gain less experience from them than in years past, experts said.

As cities place more emphasis on the volume of teenagers participating in jobs programs, the quality of the work experience tends to decline, said Laurie Levin, the field services director at Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based policy- research organization.

“The length of time most students work gets shorter, the number of hours gets shorter, and what they do cannot possibly be as carefully constructed as when you have fewer children having a more intensive and enriched experience,” she said.

Situation in Cities

The job market for teenagers and young adults will be particularly tough in New York City, where the number of 14- to 21-year- olds seeking summer employment through the city has increased by more than fivefold over the past two years.

1b date, 48,000 youths have applied for the 30,000 positions available through the city’s employment program. Of the 30,OOOjobs, 27,500 are funded under the federal Job Training Partnership Act, which limits eligibility to low-income youths under 21.

Mayor David Dinkins has also promised that the city will pay for an additional 3,000 jobs. Recently, he called on the city’s business community to either hire extra teenagers and young adults or contribute money to a fund for summer jobs.

The New York City Partnership, a private business coa1ition, hopes to place 45,000 youths in summer jobs this year, about the same number as last summer. In 1990, the organization was able to fill 52,913 positions.

In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley has said he hopes to provide 14,000 students with jobs this summer, the same number as last year, despite a 13.6 percent cut in federal jobs funding, according to Ms. Fincke. About 9,000 students are on a waiting list, also about the same as last year.

In Boston and in Tampa, Fla., larger numbers of students have applied for J.T.P.A. jobs compared with last summer. Officials in both cities expect to provide jobs for the same number of or fewer students than last year

The summer-job outlook is somewhat brighter in Washington. One year after Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly reduced the number of summer jobs from 14,000 to 7,500, the city will increase the number of positions to 12,500. Mayor Kelly pledged the additional $3.5 million needed to underwrite the increases in February.

1b date, 15,000 teenagers and young adults have signed up, and 700 others are on a waiting list, according to J.D. Brown, the associate director of the city’s office of youth employment programs.

Recreation Programs

Municipal parks and recreation programs are also being paid closer attention in the wake of the Los Angeles riot.

In Los Angeles, 15 of the city’s 55 pools were initially slated to be closed this summer, according to AI Goldfarb, a spokesman for the city’s department of recreation and parks. The city now plans to keep all the pools open.

Recreational facilities were spared from the looting and fires during the riot, according to Mr. Goldfarb. “We’re moving forward with plans to do what we generally do each summer,” he said.

The situation is less clear in New York City, where the parks department endured a $4O-million budget cut in 1991 and where staffing has been reduced by 40 percent over the past two years.

The situation is less clear in New York City, where the parks department endured a $4O-million budget cut in 1991 and where staffing has been reduced by 40 percent over the past two years.

All of the city’s 67 pools and 16 of its recreation centers will be open. Nine other centers will open with staff members provided by community organizations.

Like other cities, New York has also had to seek outside funding. The city’s parks commissioner, Betsy Gothaum, has raised more than $6 million over the past two years from foundations, corporations, and individuals to maintain services.

“We will provide more this summer,” said Edward F. Raasch, the chief of recreation for the city’s parks and recreation department. “Last summer was probably the most difficult. We were hit with vast layoffs and little time to really gear up.”

In Houston, the business community is also supporting the local parks department. A local grocery store chain has pledged to plant one million trees in the area.

“They definitely fill the gaps where our funding is lacking,” said Marilou A. Tehnet, a spokeswoman for the city’s parks department.

This year, Houston plans to keep all of its 53 recreation centers, 334 parks, and 45 pools open, and will also increase some of its services. The department plans to serve 486,000 free lunches to low-income children at 238 sites, up from 189 sites last year.

The city of Portland, Ore., also plans to keep all of its facilities open, even though its budget has been cut “fairly significantly” over the past 10 years, said Richard J. Gunderson, the director of recreation in the city’s bureau of parks and recreation.

A 5O-cent surcharge on users of municipal golf courses has generated additional funding, and the department has also continued to increase its fees for some services, including swimming lessons and sports camps, that in the past have been free or of minimal cost.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 1992 edition of Education Week as In Wake of L.A. Riots, Finding Money For Summer Jobs Seen as Top Priority