A young man of our acquaintance was among the thousands of eligible Baltimore youngsters who had not registered with the city jobs program by the deadline for applications that passed earlier this month. He desperately wanted a summer job, but somehow never got around to filling out the forms available at his high school counseling office.
On Monday, he got a second chance when President Bush signed a $1.1 billion emergency urban aid bill to help pay for the cleanup after the Los Angeles riots and Chicago floods as well as finance more than 400,000 summer jobs for poor youngsters. Locally, the measure will nearly double the number of summer jobs Baltimore City can offer to disadvantaged teen-agers. Officials are now scurrying to find 2,500 more kids who want to work.
Our young friend had better hurry, though. Commonwealth Youth Services, the city agency coordinating the summer jobs program, was inundated with calls Monday. So many people dialed the 396-JOBS hotline that officials could do little more than take names and promise to get back to callers with more information. Teen-agers hired under the program, which places workers in non-profit organizations, government offices, neighborhood rec centers and community organizations, earn $4.25 an hour for six weeks' employment.
City officials might have wished the measure had been passed earlier, when most city students were still in school and easily reachable. Now they are counting on news reports and local churches and community groups to spread the word that summer jobs are available. Judging from Monday's response, the message seems to be getting through, however. Commonwealth project director Karen Sitnick and city Office of Economic Development chief Lisa Harris spent most of the day closeted with aides trying to work out the logistics of re-opening registration for the program in time for a projected July 13 starting date.
The program is aimed at poor teen-agers as gauged by federal guidelines -- less than $16,000 for a family of four. For youngsters like the boy we know, a summer job represents a chance to earn money for things like school clothes that parents cannot always buy. It helps build self-esteem by conferring a sense of self-reliance, discipline and self-sufficiency as well as responsibility. And it's a much-needed legitimate alternative to the fast street life that constantly beckons.
What a pity it took a riot in Los Angeles to push Congress and the president to recognize it's far better to give a kid a job before he gets into trouble than put him in jail after some mischief is done.