Fewer jobs for teens in summer Youths pay price for congressional budget deadlock

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hundreds fewer Maryland youths will be able to get federally funded summer jobs this year because of cuts resulting from the congressional budget standoff.

In Baltimore, officials, who are planning to reduce the hours and weeks of work so that jobs could be provided for as many young people as possible, are hopeful that a private-sector program will make up the difference.

The effects of the reduced federal funding also will be felt in the metropolitan counties, with 380 fewer jobs expected in Baltimore County, 100 to 150 fewer in Anne Arundel, 170 fewer in the combined funding for Harford and Cecil, and 50 fewer for Howard and Carroll counties combined.

But for John Noah, a 16-year-old from Dundalk, less money is better than none. He was delighted at the prospect of continued employment through the jobs program for youths from low-income families that has provided him with work and educational experiences for the past two summers.

"I almost did a back flip when I heard we were getting the money," he said. John has participated in academic summer camps at Baltimore County's Eastern Technical High School, and last summer he helped teach topics such as designing automobiles with a computer.

The $4.25 an hour he was paid seemed like a bonus, he said.

"I just loved it," the Patapsco High School student said. "It feels so good to watch somebody seeing something, learning something."

Local officials feared that no money would come this year because of the federal budget battle. Word arrived Monday from the U.S. Department of Labor, however, that money was on the way -- $625 million nationwide, which is not as much as last year.

Without an adopted federal budget, congressional resolutions that keep government programs operating allow no more than 75 percent of last year's spending. The cuts will mean fewer jobs or fewer hours for eligible youths.

Maryland received $12.1 million last year for more than 10,000 jobs. This summer's funding was cut to $7.8 million for an estimated 6,790 jobs.

In Baltimore, officials said, the budget cut will result in five weeks of employment for about 2,600 young people instead of the six to eight weeks of work provided last year for 4,000 youths.

To squeeze in as many youths as possible, said Gail Woods, spokeswoman for the Mayor's Office of Economic and Employment Development, "we're cutting back on hours and weeks."

Ms. Woods said 18,000 city youths are eligible for the program. Younger teen-agers, those between 14 and 16 who have trouble finding jobs privately, often get their first work experience through the federally funded jobs program.

"The funding we received is the lowest funding ever," said Karen Sitnick, assistant director of the Youth Services Division of the city's employment-development office.

In February, when it looked as if the city would receive no federal money for summer jobs, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke started the YouthWorks '96 campaign to raise money from and create jobs in private industry. Now that the city will receive some federal money, the goal of the campaign is to raise enough to close the gap.

Goal is 5,000 jobs

"If we put 5,000 kids in jobs this summer, we'll be pleased," Ms. Sitnick said.

Baltimore County officials are hurrying to ready a slimmed-down jobs program for 600 low-income youths, rather than last year's 980. They are expecting $1 million this year, down from the $1.5 million the county got last year, said Gloria Sandstrom of the county Office of Employment and Training.

Anne Arundel County will get $390,000, down from $659,000 last year. That is enough for about 300 jobs, 100 to 150 fewer than last year, for six weeks instead of seven, a spokeswoman said.

Carroll and Howard counties will share equally an allocation of $141,500 and will cut the number of jobs to about 60 from 110. Harford and Cecil will share $500,000 and about 300 jobs, down from 470 last year, state officials said.

Ms. Sandstrom said the uncertainty over federal funding delayed by several months registering students for jobs. About 1,000 Baltimore County youngsters are expected to apply.

"We've been getting calls for weeks," Ms. Sandstrom said, from teen-agers and parents wondering why there were no application forms in schools this spring for the jobs they held and camp programs they took part in last summer.

The jobs and programs, which run from July 1 to Aug. 9 in most jurisdictions, are for young people ages 14 to 21 who meet income criteria. Jobs range from cleaning waterways and streams to making repairs in parks to doing clerical work in government offices.

Summer jobs are important for more than keeping youths busy. They also can provide teen-agers with valuable work experience.

"They become more self-confident in their ability to negotiate the adult world," Ms. Sitnick said. "They learn about the work ethic. What does it mean to be somewhere on time? What does it mean to follow instructions?"

The Baltimore program gives youths preparation for what is expected of them and what they might encounter on the job site.

"For example, we might tell them, 'When you do an interview, rather than staring down at your shoes, which you've been doing the entire time we've been talking, you need to look at your employer,' " Ms. Sitnick said.

Paid to learn

More than a third of the 250 youths who signed up in Baltimore County this year will be paid to learn in school-based programs such as the Career Exploration Camp. The use of such programs has expanded, Ms. Sandstrom said, because they often encourage low-income youths entering high school to stay in school.

Computer classes, photography and day trips are included in the summer programs, which have none of the regular school year's pressures of tests and rigid scheduling.

Erica Woods, a 17-year-old Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School senior who wants to go into psychology, learned a little about dealing with people at her job last summer as a cashier at Kmart.

"It gave me patience, that's what it gave me," she said, explaining, "People want to fuss and fight. But you just have to kill them with kindness."

This summer, she would like to find a job in mental health or social services. "I would like to work hand in hand with a social worker," she said. "Seeing that's the field I want to go into, I think I could go without being paid."

Malik M. Jordan, 19, a veteran of the city summer jobs program who now attends Coppin State College, marveled last week at the effect the summer jobs program has had on his life. In 1994, he and other participants opened and operated a photography business at Golden Ring Mall.

Occasionally, city officials invite him to events to speak about his summer experiences.

Joe Chin, a teacher at the Maryland School for the Blind, which straddles the city-county line in Parkville, said the 10 to 25 sighted youths who have worked with blind students each summer have helped and been helped.

"They act as mentors to our disabled students," he said, helping them do vehicle maintenance, food service work and operate the school's vending machines, among other things.

The disabled youths "get to see what it's like to work," while the sighted ones "learn how to understand people not as able as they. They get a feel of what it's like," he said, and some develop interests in teaching or child-care careers as a result.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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