The final school bell of the year may signal the beginning of a difficult summer for thousands of teen-agers looking for jobs in an economy that is struggling to keep their elders employed.
Black leaders in particular are warning that unemployment and frustration, especially young minority youths, could cause problems unless government and business act to create jobs.
Preliminary surveys indicate youth unemployment will be significantly higher this year than last. For 16- to 19-year-olds, joblessness was 2.7 percent higher this May over May of 1979. For 20- to 24-year-olds, it was 3.8 percent higher. June, July, and August are the months in which youth unemployment is expected to peak.
Labor surveys indicate joblessness is twice as bad for black youths. This, say black leaders, might cause social turmoil of the sort experienced in Miami. This week the Congressional Black Caucus criticized President Carter for not acting swiftly to ameliorate the situation by pushing for jobs programs. One congressman maintains that the angry crowds who jeered the President in Miami June 9 were directly related to high unemployment.
"I think one of the most explosive situations in the country is the failure to address youth unemployment," Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D) of California said June 11. "Youth already were experiencing high unemployment rates. With the recession and with summer coming, we have an extremely critical situation."
Mr. Hawkins and other Black Caucus leaders are sharply split with Mr. Carter over the jobs issue. Although they are not yet supporting another presidential candidate, caucus members this week indicated they are not prepared to offer Mr. Carter the kind of support that helped propel him into the White House in 1976.
Mr. Hawkins criticized the President for "raising the expectations" of Miami residents by promising a $2 billion jobs program and 100,000 jobs this summer.
"That $2 billion is for a program that wouldn't begin until 1982," Mr. Hawkins says. "And on close scrutiny we find that there are not these 100,000 jobs. You don't soothe people by words that give optimism to things that are not real. This leads to alienation, frustration, and angry people."
In the short run, it appears that employing minority youths this summer will depend more on the economy than on government jobs programs. The Carter administration had made youth jobs its top domestic initiative in fiscal 1981. But because of the four-month-long effort to balance the budget, Congress has proposed deferring the program until fiscal 1982.
Another measure, the Youth Act of 1980, is surviving in Congress despite fiscal austerity. It would make permanent the current "entitlement" programs under which poor youths are guaranteed a parttime jobs during the school year and fulltime jobs in the summer for two years after high-school graduation.
The President, days Mr. Hawkins, "shouldn't be trading [away] jobs in the vain hope that this will solve inflation." He says the tradeoff could have consequences that, even if not apparent this summer, might nonetheless show up in moral and institutional breakdowns in the future.