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Finding a cure for urban ills.

WANTED: Public-Service Jobs

In the wake of the Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King verdict, national attention has returned to the urban job crisis. National leaders now know what observers of urban life have long known: There is a severe shortage of jobs for both youth and adults in the cities.

The job shortage hits youth harder than other workers (see chart, "Desperately Seeking Employment"). In 1991, 23.3% of New York City youth age 16 to 19 were unemployed, compared with 18.6% of youths nationwide. Similar youth unemployment rates were reported in other cities: Chicago, 19.8%; Detroit, 24.9%; Houston, 13%; and Los Angeles, 21.3%. The solution may be to create a national public-sector job initiative.

Because employment is the main source of family income, the persistent job shortage in the inner cities generates poverty and leads to the hopelessness and despair that exploded in Los Angeles. But those who think that new jobs are a key ingredient in any urban policy initiative must face a harsh reality: Private-sector jobs alone will not absorb all our inner-city residents who are ready and willing to work.

The reasons are well-known and indisputable. For nearly two decades, our urban economy has steadily undergone a structural transformation. ManUfacturing jobs nosedived as U.S. producers faced increasing competition from foreign-made products. At the same time, the number of lowpaying service-sector jobs grew rapidly. Many cities now count business and health services among their largest employers. But the growth of service jobs did not offset the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Then too, employment shifted from the cities to the suburbs, and from the snowbelt and rustbelt to the sunbelt states. While these changes were taking place, employers were introducing new technologies, which raised the skill requirements of many jobs.

These conditions have left many cities with large numbers of unemployed residents who are competing for a dwindling number of jobs. And the 1990-91 recession made matters even worse. During the recession, almost 2 million workers lost their jobs and the unemployment rate rose from slightly more than 5% to nearly 7%.

Some analysts hope that overall economic growth will be the engine to create new jobs. According to the BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists, the real gross national product might grow between 2.5% and 3% in 1992, with modest growth continuing in 1993. President Bush's economic advisers do not expect the unemployment rate to return to its lower pre-recession level until 1996.

To address the urban jobs crisis, it is necessary to create a public-service employment enterprise (PSE). Direct job creation would provide a much needed fiscal stimulus for the economy and target job creation on the areas of greatest need.

A selective program of public-service employment can be funded for about $350 million a year. Capital for the program can be obtained from unused appropriations for the earned income tax credit and from the U.S. Secretary of Labor's discretionary account. Up to 150,000 workers can be supported at $350 million in jobs paying 20% above the minimum wage.

Public and private organizations can hire workers under a public-service employment initiative. There is virtually unlimited need for teacher's aides in public schools, staff for child-care centers, and workers employed in community improvement activities, including housing rehabilitation. APSE would allow residents to participate in revitalizating of their communities. A carefully designed public-service employment program can be the foundation for a public/private partnership that revitalizes our cities, and offer many of the unemployed some hope

--Bernard E. Anderson
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:public service employment
Author:Anderson, Bernard E.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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