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Panel Urges Huge Hike in Job Aid for 'Forgotten' Youth

January 21, 1988|ERIC LICHTBLAU | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A private commission appealed Wednesday for a massive public investment of upward of $50 billion over the next decade to bolster the schooling and job-training skills of a "forgotten half" of America's youth who will not go to college and will face the danger of perpetual unemployment.

The new report, issued by a William T. Grant Foundation commission of national educators, business leaders and government officials, paints a diverse--sometimes optimistic, sometimes troubling--picture of young people today.

It seeks on the one hand to dispel the "misleading" notion that many of today's youth are "troubled and irresponsible," while on the other hand noting that job prospects for an estimated 20 million undereducated young people 16 to 24 have dropped threateningly.

Renews Often-Heard Call

The $1.5-million study is being distributed to members of Congress, backed by a letter of support from Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who heads the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. Its conclusions renew an often-heard call in recent years for full funding of federal programs that help the underprivileged young, such as Head Start and Chapter 1. These programs now reach only a fraction of the low-income children eligible.

Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Education and Labor Committee and a powerful advocate for education, said that the Grant commission "says the right things" but probably will not have as strong an impact on Capitol Hill as past statements on the subject by groups such as the Carnegie Foundation and the Committee on Economic Development.

Hawkins said in an interview that the report breaks little new ground. "We're just repeating ourselves. We're all saying the same things--identifying programs that work. There's no disagreement on the problem but we're being a little naive if we're talking about taking money from the defense budget to pay for some of these things."

Funding for both Head Start and Chapter 1 will climb about 10% this year under the budget plan approved late last year. Backed by the newly emerging voice of the business community in the debate, Hawkins and others had pushed for even larger hikes but their requests were trimmed.

'Deserves Our Respect'

The Grant commission, offering recent statistics on youth-related problems, says that the "large majority" of teen-agers are staying away increasingly from drugs and pregnancy and are remaining in school longer and working one or more jobs to make ends meet. "This is a generation of young people that deserves our respect and, in some cases, our assistance," the report found.

But while young people may be staying in school longer, the commission concluded that high school graduates and dropouts alike have less to show for it in earnings than their counterparts of just 15 years ago. And many cannot find work at all, with 12% of all 20- to 24-year-old males reporting no earnings--compared with 7.3% in 1973.

"A large fraction" of those young people not seeking college degrees "are finding it harder than ever to swim against an economic tide that is flowing against them. . . . They are floundering in their efforts to find a place for themselves. And some are losing hope. . . ," the commission said.

In response, commission members urged state and local educators, businessmen and civic leaders to pursue a myriad of educational and training programs to lessen the risk. But, confronted with a changing economy that is taking away manufacturing and other jobs that were once open to less-educated youths, commission Chairman Harold Howe II of Harvard University's Graduate School of Education said: "We don't have a good answer. . . . They face a difficult situation."

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