Private Sector Unlikely To Absorb Federal Job-Training Cuts

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Washington--Despite the Reagan Administration's contention that industry will assume greater responsibility for employment and training programs, the number of unemployed teen-agers--particularly minority youths--is likely to keep growing because the private sector cannot be relied on to address the problem, a former Labor Department administrator asserted at a conference here on youth employment.

While most speakers agreed on the need "to build new coalitions" with business and industry, Robert Taggart, formerly with the Labor Department and now director of the Youth Knowledge Development Project, a foundation-supported research effort, warned that the employment and training needs of black youths, who have the highest unemployment rate of any group in the nation, would not be met by the private sector.

"Businesses in the private sector do not hire minority youth," even if salaries are federally subsidized, he said.

The conference, entitled "The Transition from School to Work: The Problem That Won't Take Care of Itself," was the first of a series of forums for educators, training counselors, and foundation representatives. The programs are supported by the Ford Foundation and sponsored jointly by two Washington-based educational organizations, Youthwork and its parent group, the Institute for Educational Leadership.

Of particular concern to most speakers at the conference was the Administration's contention that the private sector is in a position to absorb the funding losses that most employment and training programs across the country will face as a result of reduced federal spending.

Mr. Taggart told participants that he believed, based on his experience with programs under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (ceta) from 1977 to 1980, that administrators of employment and training programs "are not going to be able to buy [their] way into private companies."

Mr. Taggart also argued that unless they are able to offer something in return for the willingness of companies to employ youths, employment trainers might as well "forget" "linkages" and "coalitions" in times of decreased productivity.

'Pick up the Slack'

The Administration's belief that the states and the private sector will "pick up the slack" created by reduced federal support "is political, and not a factual, judgment," he said.

Mr. Taggart added that the Administration's concept of "volunteerism" will not work in programs aimed at the disadvantaged. It is more expensive to recruit and maintain volunteer counselors for such programs because middle-class volunteers are reluctant to go into low-income communities. For that reason, he said, ceta programs abandoned the volunteer approach some time ago.

James A. Joseph, the newly installed president of the Council on Foundations, added his warning against relying on philanthropic organizations for financial support. Corporations and foundations have their own limitations and cannot be expected to "substitute for the necessary role of federal and state governments," he said.

To illustrate his point, he noted that the combined contributions of individuals, corporations, and foundations last year amounted to approximately $50 billion, while state and federal governments administered domestic programs totaling $500 billion.

The Administration, according to Mr. Joseph, is proposing to reduce domestic programs by about $39 billion, some of which President Reagan has said could be replaced by funds from the private sector. But, the association president pointed out, philanthropic groups only awarded about $5 billion in grants last year, and there is no indication that they will increase their giving, even with more favorable tax laws.

If Administration officials are expecting the private sector to serve as a substitute funding source, they "are being nave or intentionally de-ceptive," Mr. Joseph said.

In other discussions, conference speakers questioned the dominant role envisioned for business and industry in proposed employment and training legislation. They suggested that it might further diminish the role of educators, who in the past have not had equal "partnership" status in such programs.

Dena G. Stoner of the National School Boards Association said the problem with partnerships is that educators "are not equal" to business and government leaders when it comes to controlling the local budgets for the programs.

Myrtis Mosley-Powell, executive assistant to the president of Miami University of Ohio, countered that educators should stop using the lack of financial clout as an excuse for their failure to provide valuable work experiences. She criticized inflexible school structures that do not permit enough opportunities for cooperative-education programs.

Ms. Mosley urged "alliances with various groups and not just business alone." She said social-service agencies, employment and training agencies, labor groups, and secondary and postsecondary institutions also must be involved.

Given the choice that young people have between "public subsidy versus private paycheck," Ms. Mosley said, "we can't afford to wait for economic revitalization or the Administration to tell us how it should happen."

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