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COLUMN LEFT / MAXINE WATERS : Hard Cases Hold the Key to Urban Peace : Too many inner-city men have given up, on themselves and the rest of us.

June 13, 1993|MAXINE WATERS | Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters represents parts of Los Angeles and Gardena, Inglewood and Hawthorne. and

Look on a street corner--any street corner--in my congressional district or in any other urban center, and you'll see him. He is a member of our lost generation.

He is between 17 and 30 years old, the product of a dysfunctional family. Unskilled and without a job, he is living from girlfriend to mother to grandmother. He's not reflected in the unemployment statistics and surely isn't on the tax rolls. If he's driving, it's without a license. If he's bunking in public housing, you won't find his name on the lease. He has a record--misdemeanors if he is lucky, felonies more likely. He was the most visible participant in the Los Angeles uprising, but otherwise he seems almost invisible to society.

For too many young men in my district and in other cities around this country, there is precious little hope. They have given up on themselves and they have given up on us. If we know what's good for us--and him--we'd better start paying him some attention.

The Clinton Administration is beginning to address some of the problems of the inner city. Investing more in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program will help mothers and babies. Head Start will provide a boost for young children. A summer youth employment program will benefit hundreds of thousands of young people between the ages of 14 and 19.

This is fine so far as it goes. It leaves untouched, however, the hard core, men mostly in the 17-to-30 age group. These are not the "I need a little money for summer" crowd. These black, Latino and Anglo males are anonymous and hostile. They hustle our streets, sell crack and run in gangs. These are grown men, some of whom have been on the streets for 10 years with no education, no jobs and no skills. We must begin to target them and seriously invest time in them.

It won't be easy. Many are ex-felons with records, warrants and traffic tickets. They are assigned to parole and probation officers who can't or don't keep up with them. They have fathered children who they can't or won't support.

Most of these young men have neither the discipline nor the know-how to turn their own lives around. Many of them would welcome another chance. But who will help them find it?

This problem will not be solved by building more prisons and jail cells. For the money it costs to incarcerate one of these young men for a year, we could be sending him to Harvard. Add the costs of violence perpetrated by this group--the drug overdoses, the drive-by shootings, the stabbings, you name it--and the tab for society keeps growing.

Summer jobs programs only barely touch this population. Our current Job Training Partnership Act programs place a premium on job placement and tend to skim off the cream, the most easily employable. In all, the JTPA serves less than 5% of the eligible population.

I am actively promoting a solution, the job-and-life-skills improvement act. I have talked with President Clinton about it, and with the leadership of Congress, liberals and conservatives. The act would provide intensive counseling and a weekly stipend of $100 to hard-core young adults who enroll in vocational education, high school equivalency classes or other job training programs. This stipend would be bare-bones support for lunch, transportation and basic necessities that can help job trainees "reinvent" themselves.

There would be one case manager to every 25 enrollees. The case manager would provide both group and individual counseling. He or she would help the client work through the everyday problems that can seem so insurmountable for the hard core--discipline, responsibility, family, work ethic and conflict resolution.

In short, we are talking about a back-to-basics program that teaches young men how to be responsible human beings, living and working in a democratic society where responsibilities go hand in hand with rights. This is our crime-prevention program, our birth-control program, our anti-violence campaign, all rolled into one.

The Clinton Administration proposed boosting summer jobs funding by $1 billion in its original stimulus package, which was blocked by Republican filibuster in the Senate. The "mini-stimulus" passed by the House and awaiting Senate action contains $320 million in summer jobs monies, with $80 million of that set aside for targeted pilot programs dealing with these 17- to 30-year-olds. While not nearly enough, this is a necessary first step.

We can mainstream the hard-core jobless segment of young adults if we can get the proper tools with which to do the job. Los Angeles in April and May of last year was a wake-up call from these young men. We ignore this call at our peril.

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