Chasing the American Dream: Jobs, Schools, and Employment Training Programs in New York State

by Dale Mann - 1982

The problem of youth unemployment in the state of New York is explored in a study which begins with a general review of the sociodemographic features of the target population. Other topics include: work experience and education, attitudes toward work, job entry and career ladder jobs, and unemployment among minority youth. (Source: ERIC)

Special thanks are due to the project staff: Luis A. Miranda, research director; Herman Keith, administrative director: and Jonathan Hughes, computer analyst. This project was supported by a contract from the New York State Department of Labor, CETA Operations Division. The opinions expressed, however, are the sole responsibility of the author and of the project sponsors and do not reflect the official policy of the New York State Department of Labor.


Throughout this report, we address ourselves to the work of New York young people as they themselves experience it. We look at schooling, at job training programs, at young people’s paid employment, and at some of the things government can do to help more youth get better jobs.

This analysis was conducted jointly by the Community Service Society of New York and the New York State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. With the support of the New York State Department of Labor, we spent a year studying youth and training programs in a rural, a suburban, and three urban communities in New York State.

The problem of getting good information about youth employment is not trivial: Millions of program dollars are spent based on ideas that one group (in this case, adults) has about what another group “really needs.” How then to proceed? Most studies start with an anonymous, check-the-boxes, mailed questionnaire or by having one stranger with a clipboard approach another stranger. We recognized, however, that young people are often reluctant to talk with adults about their lives. To begin to get information on the real circumstances and hopes of youth—to break down the stereotypes that have hindered employment professionals from reaching youth in need—we developed a process of peer interviewing, so that young people might feel more comfortable discussing aspects of their lives, their schooling, and their jobs. We recruited more than one hundred young people, trained them in peer-interviewing techniques, and then paid them to go back to their friends and neighbors to collect the best possible data about themselves and their employment experiences. More than three-fourths of our peer interviewers were eligible for government-assisted employment training programs. They performed at least as well as professional interviewers.

Second, we planned the research in such a way that the most pressing problems of young people—as young people themselves live those problems—would be allowed to emerge. Young people have to make some key choices about how they use their time: Will they go to school and how much? Will they work after school or will they do their homework? How long will they stay in school and why? Those questions all deal with time and its use, they relate to job preparation, they are affected by social class and economic circumstances. They are also the concerns of public policy that must decide which youth get what kind of training and thus are helped—or not—into what sort of economic future. What we discovered from teenagers asking teenagers how they use their time differs markedly from commonly held opinions. We found more hard work, on more fronts, by poorer youth than anyone has previously suspected. Based on that analysis, we recommend changes in several aspects of government programs to better help the youth of New York State.

Consider the following facts and statements:

Almost half the unemployment in the United States is among persons twenty-four years old and younger.

By the year 2000, 30 percent of American youth will be from minority groups. Unless they are schooled differently, prepared for work differently, and treated differently in the economy, they will be social dynamite.

“My father worked with a machete. I want my son to work with a computer. What the hell am I supposed to do?” (from a Puerto Rican youth).

Between 1975 and 1979, the American economy created twelve million new jobs. To the extent those new jobs went to young people, they were captured by white youths, not by black youths.


Since 1977, the federal government has spent about $6 billion to reduce unemployment among young people. This year’s effort costs $1.547 billion and includes skill training, remedial education, and job creation. But youth employment is a nest of tough problems. In 1950, one-third of all jobs in the American economy could be filled by people with less than a high school education; in 1970, 92 percent required a diploma. The competition for available jobs stiffened when more women began seeking paid employment. In addition, from 1950 to 1970, “the number of young people reaching working age each year approximately doubled, from about two million to about four million.“1 More people now chase job openings that have higher and higher entry requirements. Many young people have a personal need to work. They want the money and the skills that work experience builds. Our society needs to increase the next generation’s work capabilities.

But among unemployed male teenagers, more than half will have been out of work for more than six months.2 They are part of an army of “discouraged workers”—200,000 white youth and 123,000 black youth3—who want to work, have been looking for work, but have given up. These statistics take on a whole different meaning if one spends a winter afternoon (as we did) in the basement recreation room of a housing project in Buffalo, listening to teenagers talk about their vocational classes at school, their frustrations running down leads from newspapers want ads, and the career dreams they get from television.

These difficulties occur in a special context. We require adolescents to stay in school whether they learn or not. If they do not do well in school we dump them in the even more demanding work place. Not many occupations use apprenticeships; few young people want to follow their parent’s work; no societal group or institution provides anything like clear, comprehensive, credible guidance in moving from school to work. Left largely to their own resources, most youth are in the process of literally creating their own lives, To the ordinary turbulence of adolescence then is added the problem of finding a job.

The wide variation in work experience among New York youth is remarkable. “The problem” really does affect different groups in different ways. On national evidence, youth unemployment falls hardest on minorities. While unemployment rates for white teenagers have increased only slightly, for black teenagers they have doubled since 1954. Although we did not set out to measure the unemployment rate, its incidence is highest for blacks in this study as well. Very little has been known about Hispanic youth, but we are now in a position to illuminate their circumstances much more clearly.


Poor families that want to get themselves and their children out of poverty care less about causes than about solutions. Teenagers knocking on the doors of personnel offices do not want to hear about “structural” versus “frictional” unemployment. Their difficulties are different from those faced by policymakers who must pay attention to large numbers of roughly described clients who are struggling against very deep social and economic forces. CETA planners regularly ask themselves whether youth in their areas would be better served if they could have: (1) more accurate information about job openings; (2) better counseling in public school; (3) help with job readiness including attitudes; or (4) simply apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Since they cannot afford to do everything, administrators are forced to choose. But on what basis should they commit the public’s taxes, their own programs, and the futures of young people?

Prior to this study they had only census—type data-age, race, gender, schooling level, employment status—plus the kind of anecdotes that any practitioner acquires from working with youth, talking and listening to them. But that is a little like flying an airplane with a speedometer and gossip picked up from other pilots-no altimeter, no radar, no weather information, and no real idea of how airplanes fly. What if the anecdotes are not a true picture of the needs of all young people? And what if the census either misses some needy youths or fails to provide the kind of detailed information about them that is most relevant to matching programs with needs?

David Lee works as an aide in a senior citizens home. He had seen an ad in a Chinese newspaper but the job was gone by the time he got there. He was referred to a second place and then a third. Finally, he was sent to a manpower program, which, although it couldn’t help him get the sort of job he wanted, did put him in touch with a senior citizens home.

-from our case analysis of a young man on New York’s Lower East Side

Thus, to help CETA programs and ultimately youths themselves, we set out to provide a detailed picture of New York youth. The result of our year-long data collection process is a bank of information about 3,130 youth ages fourteen to twenty-one, from all social classes, and from urban, suburban, and rural places.

We cast our survey analysis net more broadly than might be expected. We concentrated on those young people who are most likely to have employment problems, especially black and Hispanic youth, and our sample slightly over represents them.4 But we also included comparative data from middleclass youth.

Finally, we made a special effort to get accurate information from the sorts of young people who have historically been the hardest to reach with social service programs. We have reason to believe that these hard-to-document youth (who are part of the census “undercount” gap) are also the most in need of training assistance.


In our study sites, we selected those training programs that were most likely to deal with significant numbers of youth from the area. The programs were funded under the Youth Employment and Training Programs authority (YETP) of the Youth Employment and Demonstration Projects Acts of 1977 (YEDPA).

YETP’s ultimate goal is unsubsidized employment. To achieve that, youth training contractors typically select from the following:

on-the-job training


placement services

career exploration and work experience

classroom instruction in work-related skills

classroom instruction toward high school equivalency certification

bilingual training

labor-market information

supporting services such as child care, transportation, counseling, and so forth

By law, 22 percent of an area’s funds are set aside to provide employment-related training through the local education agencies, usually the public schools. The law allows program services to go to those between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, with the possibility of some fourteen and fifteen year olds receiving help. Youth may be currently enrolled in school or not, they must be unemployed or underemployed. The intent of the law is to concentrate help on the poorest youth, but (as we discuss later) that is easier to legislate than to implement.

The first part of our study looked at characteristics of young people; the second part examined programs designed to help them. We have a major and continuing interest in the “responsiveness” question; that is, are training programs sensitive to changes in the youth groups they deal with, their aspirations, their existing abilities and attitudes, their probable futures? Although our purpose was not to evaluate training programs, we have begun to build a base of knowledge on which to measure their relation to youths’ real needs. In order to understand the manpower training system, we compared program goals and objectives, training methods, organizational history, perceived problems, and other factors. We also systematically analyzed the curriculum, including attention to intended behavioral outcomes, needs assessment procedure, instructional methods and materials, and so on.

The final section of this report puts the survey analysis about young people together with the information about training programs, and ends with conclusions and recommendations.


General Characteristics

What are the young people like who are the focus of this study? As shown in Figure 1, of our more than three thousand interviewees, slightly more than half are female (51 percent female to 49 percent male): 32 percent are white, 24 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic, 9 percent Oriental, and 5 percent Native American. (The balance either declined to answer or identified themselves as “other.“) About a fifth of our interviews were done with fourteen year olds; 30 percent with fifteen and sixteen year olds; seventeen year olds were another 21 percent; and 25 percent of the interviews were spread over the four age groups: eighteen to twenty-one year olds inclusive. Every fifth interview was with hard-to-document youth: that is, someone not on local school attendance rolls, newly arrived in the area, an undocumented immigrant, and so on.

About half of the total is in high school. Public perceptions of older youth vary—either they are supposed to be in college or they are thought not to be doing much. Yet we found one person in five enrolled in a vocational training course, a youth employment program, or some other postsecondary but noncollege education. Another 17 percent is in college.


Family circumstances have an important effect on employment: Does the young person live at home while searching for a job? Is the family intact? Are there wage-earning role models to emulate? Two-thirds of our sample live at home. Half report that their parents are currently married to each other, half report that their fathers live at home, but 87 percent say that their mothers live at home. Almost 30 percent report that a relative other than mother/father/ brother/sister lives in the home. Almost a third of those responding to our income questions report total family incomes of less than $5,000, but that is partly due to the older youths, living on their own but with barely adequate jobs. Another 28 percent report family incomes between $10,000 and $20,000; and about 10 percent reported family incomes in excess of $20,000.

A large proportion (44 percent) report that they speak a language other than English at home; interestingly, almost as many report French as Spanish, particularly in New York’s South Bronx, where there are many immigrants from the Caribbean. As with previous immigrants, the language of the home is different from the language of the streets. While a quarter of the sample say they always or sometimes speak a language other than English with their parents, that proportion drops by half when referring to the language used with friends and peers.

The neighborhoods that we studied were chosen to reflect concentrations of youth employment problems. There are obvious differences in the employment and employment-related circumstances of one young person growing up on a farm and another growing up on the sixth floor of a walk-up tenement. For one thing, the types of jobs available will differ and so will the general nature of the economies of the two places. Measuring the comparative impact of different economic states was beyond our scope, but variations in type of place allowed us to ask about differences in attitudes, in expectations, and in the availability of kinds of training opportunities. When asked to describe “most people who live in your neighborhood,” one-third report “white,” one-sixth “black,” one-sixth “Hispanic,” 10 percent “other” (presumably integrated neighborhoods).

To this point, we have described youth (as represented by our sample) in roughly the same terms as those already available to officials who must plan and deliver programs to help needy youth. In succeeding sections of this report, we will expand on that picture. The sample is an accurate representation of what social scientists call the “biosocial characteristics” of all young people in New York, with a slight and purposeful overrepresentation of minority youth, for whom unemployment problems are the most severe.

“I’ve bagged groceries, been a messenger, worked for a plastics company, now I’m helping a janitor. . . . I don’t think they are ‘real’ jobs but at least I’m working.”

-from our case study of a South Bronx young man

“My buddies said the only work around here was in the quarries and they were right. I worked in three different quarries but when they found out I wasn’t eighteen they fired me. The cutting machines don’t have any guards on them but I didn’t complain because I needed the money. After I had the accident (his hand was nearly cut off) I ran into the boss’s office and he started yelling at me but when he saw my hand he had one of the other workers take me to the hospital. . . . Now I get workmen’s comp, $35 a week.”

Work Experience

Moving from school to the labor force is, for many young people, a gradually accelerating process in which they literally learn “how to work.” Schools provide some dimensions of that, but many youngsters seek and need additional opportunities to practice work skills. Of our more than three thousand young people, about 11 percent describe themselves as neither in school nor working in any capacity—a fairly low proportion, since some idleness is involuntary.

These young people do not like to “hang out.” Given a choice among being in school, working, or “hanging out,” the latter option is least desirable to them. While more young people prefer school to work, they do not dislike work: 60 percent say that, even if they were suddenly to become independently wealthy, they would still want to work. A third believe they could have successful careers without going to college.

More than one-fourth describe themselves as looking for work. Our young people rank the sources of help in finding jobs as shown in Figure 2.

The high ranking of self-initiative is reassuring: Shoe leather is still trusted. School counselors and newspapers will also be pleased with their utility. But there can hardly be any satisfaction with the role of youth employment programs: Not more than one young person in four knows anything about government-supported programs to help them get and keep jobs.

Young people, especially those still in school, are remarkably optimistic about finding jobs: Half say they will have no trouble, and two-thirds are confident that someday they will find the “ideal” job. For middle-class youth, well-connected in their communities, gainful employment may be a predictable and easy next step in their lives. But for others it is not.

If they do have trouble, what do young people in New York think keeps them from getting jobs? Most (70 percent) blame themselves and their own lack of skills and qualifications. They do not think that a lack of jobs is a barrier (although it is), nor do they think that employers are prejudiced. They understand that employers prefer older workers. They do recognize that employers want high school diplomas and, if applicants lack them, their chances of getting jobs are diminished.


In our sample, 10 percent work ten hours per week or less, 11 percent work between eleven and twenty-five hours per week, and 20 percent work more than twenty-five hours per week.

A popular image of teenagers is that they all work at fast-food chains. Almost one in five of the working youngsters in our sample does report employment in food service, but 17 percent work in other commercial organizations. Of those employed, most are in small businesses. In New York City, for example, of the thousands of businesses, 98 percent employ fewer than 100 workers. Unfortunately, this abundance of work places is a nightmare for youth employment agencies trying to penetrate all those potential job sites, and also for young people who need to imagine and to act on a sense of where the jobs are.

How much do they make when they work? About 15 percent makes between $2.00 and $3.00 per hour, about the same percent makes between $3.00 and $4.00 per hour; 11 percent makes more than $4.00 per hour. About one person in four reports “off the books” income—that is, cash remuneration without fringe benefits or security. Of course, part of that is from truly incidental employment such as mowing a neighbor’s lawn.

If young people blame their own lack of preparation for job-entry difficulties, it is logical to ask what preparation they think is necessary in order to work. Only a few mention literacy, although a lack of basic literacy is a major employer complaint. Office skills are cited most frequently, followed closely by “people skills” and mathematics. Surprisingly, 13 percent say that nothing needs to be known to hold a job.

“Welfare is no good because They own you. Yeah you get free money but everyone else thinks you’re no good, just living off other people. But when times are hard, what else is there?”

-from our case study of a rural youth


The contribution of public schooling to later vocational success has been much debated. This study was not designed to test directly the contribution of schools to careers but we do have data on a number of dimensions of this important linkage.

Schools fare remarkably well in the estimates of these young people. Three-quarters of all the young people grade their schools and their teachers A or B. More young people than not think that (1) their teachers will help them with personal problems; (2) their teachers “know their stuff”; (3) they have the freedom to learn about their interests; (4) the school is a safe place; and (5) school requires hard thinking. Even those who dropped (or were pushed) out of school express a desire to return. Three-fourths of both the blacks and whites say their schools are not racist, but 40 percent of the Orientals say their schools are indeed racist.

Large numbers (77 percent) report parent interest in their progress, feel that school is necessary to later success in life, and want more occupational training. But only about half think they have gotten good job counseling.

What about aspirations for employment after graduation? We asked two kinds of questions: “What would you like to do?” and “What do you think you will be able to do?” Responses are summarized in Figure 3.


The pattern in the figure is a sad one. For the most part, these young people aspire to fields that they do not believe they will be able to enter. Twice as many would like to go into agriculture or health care as feel will be able successfully to enter those fields. At the bottom of the table, the pattern is reversed with “sales” and “education” seen as easy places to enter but not very desirable.

What about levels of preparation for those careers? Our data show that 21 percent of the interviewees think they can get along with a high school diploma; 26 percent feel the need for a certificate; 15 percent, a junior college degree; 20 percent, a bachelors degree; and 4 percent, a graduate credential.

One of the recent criticisms of public schools has been that later vocational success is more closely related to connections than it is to academic performance. Thus, “who-you-know” is alleged to be more important than what you have done. Young people themselves do not share that cynicism; about 60 percent reject the necessity of “connections” as a stepping-stone to success.


Expectations for young people vary widely. Some people would have virtually all youth, if not in college, then at least in vocational institutions or manpower programs. Others see that as unrealistic, at least for that part of the population that has not done well in public school, and argue that those youngsters ought to have jobs. But different paths lead to productive adult lives (some get there through schooling, others through vocations, some never get there). Demands for youth differ (that they support themselves, that they create “human capital” by continued training, that they at least not be a drag on the economy) and social circumstances differ (what is “real accomplishment” for a poor youth might be regarded as mediocre performance for a more advantaged person).

There are about 3 million young people from the ages of fourteen to twenty-three in New York State. The welter of public expectations for them honors their diversity. A wise family with six children does not often expect the same things from all of them, and neither should public policy. But can we find a standard that does not discriminate against a nineteen-year-old electrician’s apprentice because she is not in college like another nineteen year old? Federally funded youth employment programs are sometimes criticized because they seem to be dealing with the “wrong” groups of young people, those who are not the most needy. Such criticisms assume that the young people in youth employment programs are different from other youth in their work experience. But are they? No one can tell unless we know more about all New York youth, and for that we need a fair, noninvidious yardstick.

Engaged Time

For this study, we developed a new measure called “engaged time” that counts equally the efforts young people put into either schooling or work or both. The idea of engaged time indicates that we have equal respect for a full-time salad chef and a full-time college scholarship student. It also allows us to recognize the common circumstance in which a young person might work part-time and go to school part-time. Engaged time gives us a simple, direct, and fair measure that also coincides with the way young people live. Because it allows us to add fragments of time spent in different ways, it also allows us to capture a sense of what it means to be young with one foot in school and the other in, or at least getting closer to, the world of work.

Using the idea of engaged time, we were initially struck by the very large proportion of youth who were fully engaged either at school or at work. Two-thirds of all the young people in the sample are 100 percent involved. On the one hand, we were encouraged that those two-thirds seem so productively occupied; but on the other hand, did that tell us the whole story? When we thought to ask, “Are there young people who are more than 100 percent involved?” we discovered, within the full-time group, another set of young people who are exceptionally busy. This analysis has a lot to say about these “super youth”: young people who are working full-time and going to school nights and weekends, or vice versa, or in many cases doing both virtually full time.

For CETA planners, school administrators, and federal and state officials, the overriding question of which programs best serve what youth may be addressed differently by using the idea of engaged time. For example:

Are some otherwise needy youth literally too busy to be helped by employment programs?

Are all poor youngsters alike, as is now assumed by most social programs targeted on poor youth, or are there systematic variations in how they use their time?

Are there ethnic, racial, age, and gender differences in the mix of school-related, training-related, and work-related activities?

What is the reality underlying youth work? Are these dead-end jobs with low pay and no satisfaction? What sort of jobs or experiences lead young people toward what futures?

What youth are best served by existing programs?

Engaged time can be thought of as a scale, with the most-engaged youngsters at the top (those we call “super youth”) and the least-engaged at the bottom (hanging out). In between, of course, are most young people: in school or working but generally at only one or the other. Let us use this basic idea to understand the situations of the young people in New York State.

There are many reasons to examine race first. Racial prejudice is a continuing barrier to skill acquisition and to job entry. Ethnic groups vary by how established they are in the American society and, because “establishment” translates into advantages like connections and credentials, we ought to find that young people from different groups vary in how hard they have to work to get to the same places. Of course, if the negative image of black and Hispanic youth is borne out, then those young people will not be working harder; they will have given up and be doing not much more than the legally required minimum which is, in most cases, school attendance. Engaged time gives us a convenient way to examine these patterns.

Let us look first at the super youth. If Antarticans are 10 percent of a total population, then we might expect them to be 10 percent of any subgroup. If they are more than 10 percent of the subgroup, they are over represented; less than 10 percent, they are underrepresented. Figure 4 compares, for each major ethnic group, the percentage of super youth to their percentage of the population.

Whites have only one-half as many super youth as their presence in the population would lead one to expect. Hispanics have exactly as many super youth as expected, and blacks have somewhat fewer. Native Americans are more than three times as likely to be super youth, and Orientals are twice as likely.

It is very clear from these data that the public perception of minority youth is wrong. Our super-youth category represents the very hardest working young people. As compared with white youth, young people from all minority groups are working proportionately harder. This seems as much a matter of social class as of race. Many more white youths are middle class and thus do not feel the same pressures to go to school and to work at the same time, especially not full time at both! But if minority youth have given up on our society or on their own social mobility, neither would they be doing anything more than the bare minimum. Instead, it is clear that they are doing exactly what previous minority groups in America have done—working hard.


Community leaders and proud parents have argued that minority youth work very hard, yet still suffer from unemployment and underemployment. Virtually every study indicates that youth employment squeezes blacks hardest. Measuring the average (mean) engaged time for each ethnic group can tell us if that is the case here as well (see Figure 5).

A score of 5.0 indicates full-time engagement either in school or at work. That was the average score for Native Americans, followed closely by Orientals. But there is significantly less engaged time among black youth than among others. Thus these data also confirm the acuteness of the unemployment problem in the black community. But just because lack of engagement is a problem for blacks as a whole does not mean that large numbers of black youngsters are not working quite hard. In fact, the standard deviation of the mean for black youth was larger than that for any other group, indicating the extreme variation in the employment-related circumstances of these young people. Despite the ability of some black youngsters to do well, the group as a whole is less connected to schools and to the economy than any other.

One way to think about youth employment is as a testing process in which each person tries out some “extra” work, takes summer jobs, interrupts schooling for a year, and so on. Our study showed that sixteen and seventeen year olds do the most job exploration. The total amount of activity grows steadily until age 18 and then drops, probably because the completion of high school allows most young people to concentrate on one track or another. It is interesting, though, to note that about a third of the youngest adolescents (fourteen to fifteen) already work part-time.

Young men and young women are remarkably similar in the way they use their time. Half of all the super youth are female; of those working full time or in school full time, half are female. The only significant differences between young men and women are with respect to family responsibilities (more females than males) and in the group that is neither working nor in school (60 percent female). Thus, family responsibilities and unemployment fall heaviest on young women. But on the positive side, it appears that, once the process of engagement has begun, young women are equal participants with young men: They seem about as able to find jobs, stay in school, and pay the price involved in multiple and competing attentions to school and work.


The suburbanization of America was driven by the desires of parents that their children have a better life. If “better” means a life with less economic pressure and fewer distractions from academic pursuits, then the decision is probably well founded, although middle-class youth living in central cities certainly enjoy the same advantages. But the suburbs also have drawbacks. Of our young people who are neither in school nor at work, a much larger proportion than would be expected come from the suburbs: Even though city youth represent 70 percent of the sample population, they constitute only half of the “unconnected” group; 17 percent of those sampled live in the suburbs, yet they comprise 41 percent of the “unconnected” youth. Two things seem to be at work here: Poor youth from minority backgrounds, frozen out of employment, live also in suburban places; and, second, middle-class youth can literally afford to be idle.

Attitudes toward Work

How do young people feel about work? They often end up with the worst jobs, and bad jobs sometimes create bad workers. In general, though, our youth are supportive and cheerful about the work they do. The overwhelming majority (90 percent) think their co-workers are friendly and their supervisors are competent. Virtually all think their surroundings at work are nice, and most like the chance to do certain tasks well. The currently unemployed are most negative about their last jobs, part-time workers are decidedly more satisfied, and super youths are really enthusiastic. Adults think about their jobs in terms of money, security, challenge; predictably these young people, though caring less about security, are very concerned with money and are virtually unanimous in wanting a challenge. Nonetheless, 60 percent also call their current work “boring”—a very adult dilemma.

The importance of work experience in building attitudes and expectations that will be useful later in life comes through clearly in these findings. The benefits from employment are not only economic; they extend to personal development and socialization.

For many youth, the question is not the value of the job; they want to work, but cannot find jobs or lack the qualifications for those that exist. Government programs are supposed to fill that need, but most young people know nothing about them. When asked, “Do you know of anything the Government may be doing about youth employment?” 81 percent say no. When asked if they know of programs that serve their neighborhoods, 78 percent said no. A discouraging number (73 percent) do not even know about CETA. The lack of information unfortunately was most apparent among those young people who are struggling to find jobs or are simply “hanging out.” Regardless of how we measured awareness of sources of assistance, no more than one-quarter recognized help from youth employment training programs. In fairness to manpower planners and training contractors, we should note how difficult it is to penetrate particular audiences. But when Adidas wants to sell sneakers to teenagers, they find ways to do it.

And that of course is directly related to why the state asked for this analysis in the first place. We must find youth where they are and accommodate programs to their circumstances. Most youth are in school, but they are thinking about jobs, and many have begun to explore working. They want more information, more training; they want a closer connection between their academic work and their vocational aspirations. Manpower programs ought, therefore to work intensively in and with schools (a collaboration that has increasingly been encouraged by federal legislation). But what works with one group will not work with another. Teenagers who are homebound with family responsibilities feel isolated and are isolated—they need special kinds of outreach. Eighteen year olds have more time on their hands than others and present a different set of considerations to manpower planners. Black youth, especially young black women, face particular difficulties that ought to be the basis for focused planning. The current CETA practice of contracting training programs to community-based organizations (CBOs) is one step in this direction, but because most CBOs run relatively blanket, undifferentiated programs, much remains to be done. The varied constraints and experiences of youth in our sample led us to develop other measures to try to understand the complexity of the problems faced by youth seeking jobs in New York.

Job Entry and Career Threshold

A white teenage young man decides to try to make a break from Appalachian poverty. He gets off the bus on Forty-second Street in New York City with only enough money to last a couple of days. He finds that the “best” jobs are not quickly offered, and most of what is available leads nowhere. To keep himself together, he starts washing dishes; but because expenses are high and pay is low, he has to work overtime. Unable to risk his employer’s displeasure if he takes time out to run down leads to better jobs, he begins to feel locked into dead-end work with no future. What starts with initiative and courage ends with frustration and disillusionment.

Because this dilemma is real and common among young people, we have tried, in our analyses, to capture these difficult choices. To do that we developed the “job entry” and “career threshold scales” (see Figure 6). The first measures how closely an individual is to being a fully established worker or a productive member of society.5 The career scale indicates the quality of the job held, its pay, prestige, security, opportunity, and so on.

Using these two measures allows us to get beneath the surface of young people’s work experience. We may now ask not only if they are working, but also what contribution that work is making toward their futures. Putting the two measures together we can see how some young people might prefer to take only part-time work (low on the entry scale) if it leads to their eventual occupational goal (high on the career scale.) An eighteen year old, aspiring to be a dentist, who turns down a full-time summer job in construction to work part-time in a laboratory is one example. Other young people are in the opposite situation: They are fully established but in temporary work unrelated to their career goals, for example, a seasonal farm worker who hopes to be a schoolteacher. These measures further highlight the different employment prospects faced by different groups. One-third of the total group of “most established” workers are Native American and Orientals, followed by whites. Blacks are the least established.


On the other hand, while Native Americans and Orientals are closer to fulltime employment, it is clear that their jobs are temporary and dead-end. White youth work less but have a much higher average place on the career threshold, for example, better pay and security, more chance for independence. Interestingly, a similar situation exists for black youth: Black youth, when they can work, tend to hold jobs that are lower on the work entry scale than on the career scale. Both white and black youth seem to be waiting for meaningful work. However, the socioeconomic price being paid by blacks is much higher. Both groups have skills and knowledge and prefer to use them in their next jobs. Whites have a better chance of getting that “next job.” Hispanic youth have virtually equal scores on both scales, indicating that the jobs they hold roughly match their career intentions, but neither score is high (see Figure 7).

Older youth are less likely to be working full time but are higher on the career scale. Younger teenagers reverse that trend, with a lot of time spent bagging groceries, delivering pizzas, and so on. As with the engaged-time variable, there is a remarkable similarity among men and women regarding both job entry and career threshold.

For a young man living in a rural part of New York, the chances are good that he will work and at a job that is very closely career-related. Urban youth, when they can find jobs, work at marginal tasks, often because they do not have the economic freedom to prefer one job over another. However, before a family packs the U-Haul trailer to head for the country, it is worth noting that career aspirations differ between rural and urban places. In the rural setting, a young person’s early work on the farm is closely related to an agricultural career. Life in the city is considerably more complex, since vocational hopes can be chosen from a wider array than the much less attractive set of part-time jobs available in a ghetto neighborhood.

Each of our urban sites was different. In New York City’s Lower East Side, young people are working, and the jobs are fairly closely related to their career intentions—a healthy situation, except that career aspirations were quite modest among Lower East Side youngsters. In Buffalo, young people are not working as much, but when they do, the jobs are career-related. But the South Bronx has no work, and certainly no career-related work for its youth-the worst of both worlds. The clear contrast among the three sites spotlights the devastation of the South Bronx for most young people, especially Hispanics.


The family exerts a pronounced influence on whether a person works at a career-linked job. Those families with incomes of less than $5,000 have children who must work to help support themselves and others. Their need for income overrides any concern about whether the job is career-oriented.

The work prospects and career futures of different ethnic groups are affected by different background factors. In general, being a fully established worker at a career-related job was closely associated in our data with employment history, education, family background, some personal characteristics such as age, and knowledge of labor-market information. But the size of those effects varies by ethnic group.

If a white, a black, and a Hispanic teenager were walking down the street and talking about how to start a career, they would agree, based on our findings, on two things: (1) the need to obtain labor-market information and (2) the relevance of previous employment and schooling to job prospects. However, there are differences in the degree to which these two factors are important to each youth. None of the three would want to consider seriously a job that meant a step down from the last one. White and black youths rely heavily on that immediate past job as a stepping-stone; they are reluctant to move to anything less. Hispanic youth, however, new immigrants and consequently new to the labor force, are one step behind in comparison with blacks and whites. They primarily need job information in order to find career-related employment, and to supplement their dependency on their personal networks. Otherwise, their employment prospects remain unconnected to career aspirations. White youth are able to exploit their job experience, credentials, and connections. Black youth take a middle ground needing both: job information and some work experience.

Schooling is another strong predictor of entry/career placement for our three young people walking down the street. For blacks and whites, their own personal academic work is a key ingredient. For Hispanics, the school, its teachers, and the amount of education is pivotal. The differences can be seen as a continuum with white youths not having to worry quite so much about what the school must do for them (they are better connected economically and socially) and Hispanics at the opposite end, needing the school to bridge them to a world of work that, unassisted, they have trouble reaching. In this, our study differs from others that indicate a weaker link between schooling and educational success. Most such studies have looked at longer-term, adult outcomes. We are here examining near-term, present work experiences of youth.

The best predictors of success on the job entry ladder for all youth is the amount of education a youth’s mother has and the prestige of her occupation if she is in paid employment. Of the eight factors we used to measure family background, these two were the strongest across all groups. The more the mother’s education, the more chances a youth has in landing a job; the lower the mother’s job prestige, the more need there is for the youth to work. Among the personal characteristics, age was the strongest predictor for jobs and careers, probably because older youths are less likely to be satisfied with temporary, dead-end work.

To summarize, white youth progressively postpone work experience because they can afford to do that. More intact families with higher socioeconomic status from suburban areas allow those youth to wait for the right job. Black youths seem to be moving in the same direction. However, Hispanics must turn inward—to their personal networks—to achieve what others can accomplish on a more impersonal level. If the legacy of the American work force is, as Adlai Stevenson once said, “waves of immigrants moving through society’s continuum,” then we can help by making sure schools teach and jobs are available.


This study has located a group of exceptionally hard-working young people. In fact, 20 percent of this sample’s population is kids on “overtime” in that they put in full time at two different occupations: work and education or training. But why are they working so hard? For example, is one youngster working hard because he wants to, while another works hard because she must? Public policy ought to treat the two differently. The background characteristics of the super youth can help with these questions.

They tend to be older, out of high school, not going to college but attending a postsecondary training program of some sort while working full time. They feel less support from their parents than do other youth, and they come from difficult family circumstances: broken homes where the parents’ occupations are the least prestigious, the least skilled, and the lowest paid. One in four is Hispanic, and half live in the South Bronx. Nearly a third live on the Lower Fast Side of New York. But there are proportionately more super youth in rural places than in any other kinds of communities, which probably reflects both the availability and the necessity of agricultural work.

These young people are enthusiastic about their work, but the work, on our measures, is not very attractive. They say that the places they work are dirty, they do not have much of a challenge, and they do not expect any kind of promotion or advancement. In spite of that, 95 percent are enthusiastic about working. Why? They work because they have to work: They seem grateful for a chance to survive. They have no illusions that sweeping out a movie theater is going to lead them to the corporate suites of the Gulf and Western building. But they realize that they have jobs when others do not and that their work makes possible, among other things, a continued education. (More than a third of all those in vocational training programs were also working full time.)

Octavio’s mother needs the money he makes working but he wants to stay in school. He lives and goes to school in the South Bronx but works packing boxes in a perfume factory in Brooklyn. He has seven classes in a row from 7:45 to 2:30, but has to be at work by 3:00 so he can’t eat lunch. When he gets home at 7 he is often too tired to do his homework and thus is embarrassed to go to class the next day.

-from a case study of a seventeen-year-old Hispanic youth

One of the remarkable things about the super-youth group is its size--there are lots of young people working very hard. The second remarkable thing is its makeup: The very high proportion of minority youth demonstrates initiative, dedication, and willingness to sacrifice that contrast sharply with prejudiced and jaundiced attitudes about youth.

The ethnic makeup of the group has within it some consequences for public policy. It is clear that many of the super youth are doubly trapped: They work to survive, but the jobs they get do not lead to careers and their existing obligations suppress further mobility. That is a high price and a harsh reality that ought to be reflected in the design of youth employment programs. They should help members of this group to realize the rewards they have earned.


Unemployment is a tragedy for black youth and a disaster for black young women. The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly documents unemployment rates above 40 percent for young black women. Since the year of the Brown decision forbidding school segregation (1954), unemployment has increased slightly for white youth but doubled for blacks. Virtually everything works against blacks: competition from undocumented immigrants, a minimum wage that encourages employer selectivity, the increase in skill levels needed in a service rather than an industrial economy, inadequate schooling, and social pathologies associated with poverty and racism.

Black families have tried to use schooling as a counterforce; but even though, for example, higher education enrollments have grown substantially for blacks, the problem of unemployment persists. One study found that more education helped whites to secure a better job, but a “greater level of experience” was the key for blacks. In 1977, the unemployment rate of black high school graduates was nearly three times that of their white counterparts. Although in some ways we are encouraged to note that blacks are proportionately better represented among our super youth than are whites, the general direction of our findings reinforces the desperate need for more assistance to black youth.

On our evidence, to be black, sixteen, and living in the South Bronx means there is a 67 percent chance of being unemployed; two out of every three black youngsters will not work this year. When we look at those working full time, only one in five is black, while one in four is Hispanic. And recall that young people do not want to be hanging out—they prefer, if they can, to be in school or at work. These young people are not unemployed by choice.

Most black young people live with their families of origin, although 40 percent are from broken homes. One in four reports a household annual income less than $5,000. Another fourth reports income between $5,000 and $10,000; and only one in twenty an annual income of over $20,000. School and work are the two preferred activities of black youth. Half believe they are unlucky in finding jobs. Almost 20 percent have participated in a training program of some sort.

Of those now working, three out of five do so more than twenty-five hours per week. But fully half of all working black young people earn less than the minimum wage! Many work in small operations of no more than thirty employees.

Black youngsters do not have trouble keeping jobs, they have trouble finding them. Of those who have worked, two-thirds have done so in only one place. Those who do work believe their jobs let them do the things they do best, but half of all black respondents do not believe they have a good chance for promotion at their present jobs.

Only one-fourth know anything at all about youth employment programs (primarily CETA) and they are largely the same group that has already taken part in government-sponsored training programs.


Hispanics are about 10 percent of the New York State population as reported by the Bureau of Census, of which Puerto Ricans are the largest single group. From our data, fully one-fourth of the super youth are Hispanic. Their family stability is somewhat better than that of black youngsters, but their poverty is even more acute: 40 percent report family incomes of less than $5,000 (compared with 25 percent for blacks). Three-fourths of all Hispanic young people report annual household incomes of less than $10,000. Twenty percent of the Hispanics live alone; 5 percent have children, and of that group, most have one child. It seems that, even though Hispanics work hard, their family economic situations remain the worst of all the ethnic groups in New York.6

As expected, most Hispanics were raised with Spanish as the original language. But the surprise is that fluency in Spanish is seen as an employment advantage among young Hispanics. Most of our sample work in the immediate neighborhood, and most neighborhoods are segregated. Local economic development in Hispanic communities, although slow, seems to be giving Spanish-speaking young people a needed boost. Clearly, the low levels of school achievement, family income, and employment rates indicate the need for further economic development in Hispanic neighborhoods.

“Hey, I’ve been bagging groceries at this market for seven months. I’m ready to move up, but the manager hires cashiers from outside. Never late once, I took a commercial course, I know I can do the work, but the man isn’t going to give me a chance with the cash register.

-17 year old black from suburbs

One-third of all Hispanic fathers work in menial or unskilled occupations. Virtually no Hispanic fathers are administrators or executives, and they lack the economic and social influence that comes from holding executive posts.

The National Puerto Rican Forum has criticized government programs for failing to meet the employment training needs of Hispanics. Our findings support this allegation. When asked specifically about CETA, one in four blacks but fewer than one in ten Hispanics recognize it as a source of help. Black youngsters are three times as likely to have taken part in a training program as are Hispanic young people (18 percent and 6 percent respectively). Clearly, manpower planners need to make a greater effort to reach this segment of the youth population.


A number of people in the United States live in the shadows. Some are undocumented immigrants; some are newly arrived and “unconnected” individuals from impoverished areas; some live alternate life-styles or engage in criminal activity. This hard-to-document population has increased steadily from 4 percent of the population in 1950 to 11 percent in 1978 (no one knows exactly because they are, literally, hard to document). These people need help but are unlikely to get it. Their needs ought to be reflected in policy planning but cannot be, because of their near invisibility. They are unlikely to have other sources of assistance that are available to more established members of communities, neighborhoods, families, and groups. We have reason to suspect that they take the worst jobs, have the least security, are the most vulnerable and the most exploited. But, beyond that, not much is known. We think that they are disproportionately Hispanic, but are they? Are they older or younger? Are there more females than males?

Using peer interviews and quota sampling in casual settings (street corners, pizza parlors, pool rooms) we found the largest proportion-half of all the hard-to-document-living in the South Bronx. Because most federal programs are driven by the proportion of eligible persons in a given area, the fact that Hispanics are hard to document (and also undercounted during the census enumeration) means that they are consequently underserved. Their literally marginal existence makes them difficult to reach with existing social welfare programs.

Surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of hard-to-document youth are females. A disproportionate number of females are confined to the house/home, in charge of “domestic” activities and precluded from community, social, and economic networks. While men range out from the home-as-castle, it is a prison for these women. If they work in paid employment, it is the only activity outside of the home in which they are engaged. If they work, they get only survival wages, and they do not become connected to a world of social opportunity. Predictably, the hard-to-document group is older and less attached to their families of origin. A third are Hispanics; blacks one-fourth; Native Americans one in six; and poor whites one in ten.

Also as expected, only 2 percent of the hard-to-document group are high school graduates; most are not in public school though some do attend other institutions, primarily for vocational training.

Their families of origin are poor. Eight out of ten come from households where the father is unskilled or engaged in a menial job. Nine out of ten report an annual income of less than $10,000; two out of three report incomes of less than $5,000. Half of the hard-to-document youth reside with friends or relatives, not with parents. Only one in ten lives with both natural parents.

Their aspirations are not high. They are aware that whatever skills they may learn on their jobs are not the kind that will help in getting a better job but just another job. Half of them think their jobs are repetitive, monotonous, and provide little opportunity for meaningful personal interaction. They are indeed filling the worst jobs, at the worst places, with little hope of upward mobility.


The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA, 1973) consolidated existing federally funded employment and training programs. The 1977 Youth Employment Demonstration Programs Act (YEDPA) augmented CETA efforts diverted toward young people and did so in a candidly experimental way. CETA has emphasized locally planned efforts to try to meet community needs as perceived by state, county, or city governments. But the desire for local responsiveness and for decentralized, diverse initiatives conflicts with another set of equally compelling needs for the federal government to try to ensure program quality and attend to federally determined (and congressionally defined) priorities. Thus CETA in general and YEDPA in particular wobble back and forth between centralized and decentralized controls. What never changes is the “programmatic” vehicle.

There are, after all, several ways to deal with the problem of unemployment among youth. It could be ignored, and was for generations. It can be ameliorated by increasing the demand for workers including young workers. Government can redefine other policies to keep young people out of the labor force (e.g., increasing the permissible school-leaving age or making postsecondary education more attractive). But YEDPA rests on the assumption that the best way for government to help young people is by arranging for them to be given the knowledge and/or attitudes that will be useful to employers. The success of that depends on the state of the art in education. To the extent that we can ensure certain teaching levels and learning results, we may increase the chances of successful programs. Once the decision is made to treat a social problem with social programs, then the organizations that will carry out those programs become critically important.

Policymakers cannot directly affect the life chances of millions of youth by persuading a manufacturer to hire three particular young people who may have come to their attention. Instead, administrators must manipulate the only things they can, with the hope of reaching youth. Personnel practices, reporting requirements, decision-making procedures, rules and regulations, seem remote from the street-corner problem of how to find a doable job for a decent buck. But from the programmatic side, those organizational factors are all there is. The fate of young people is thus linked to the decisions made about them in the organizations that serve them. In this part of our analysis, we will look at some key aspects of organizations providing youth employment services.

There is an appalling lack of information about those organizations and their curricula. Recent studies of schooling demonstrate the difference that organizational factors make for the students’ educational achievement. The same is probably true for youth employment programs, but we do not know for sure because of the dearth of solid information on their plans, operations, and real achievements. Americans find ways to count the things they care about (calories, horse power, the GNP) but the manpower community has not yet found ways to collect valid data on important dimensions of its responsibility. Without better program descriptors, it is impossible to understand the connections between the ways programs are organized and the vocational success of their clientele, and without that understanding, neither contractors nor youth can be helped. Thus, there is a practical need for more and better data about training practices and their effect on young people’s employment circumstances.

To form a base for that kind of analysis, we began with documents (e.g., current fiscal year contracts or proposals), telephone interviews, and visits to some contractors. Our purpose was not to evaluate them but rather to make an initial exploration of the field.

Type of Sponsor

In recent years, there has been a controversy about what organizations can most effectively provide training. School people argue that at least some youth employment programs are best housed in public schools. Others argue that young people face difficult employment circumstances because of what those schools have failed to provide. Some manpower administrators believe that their function is to make up for the prior failure of the public schools; and from that perspective, more money to the cause of the problem seems hard to justify. If young people failed or were failed by the public schools, the argument goes, then the manpower community ought to provide options, new approaches, and new methods.

Both sides are both right and wrong, but one conclusion is certainly warranted: At the very least, we ought to expect more cross-fertilization and some modest additional amounts of cooperation between the two training providers, each of whom is a distinct and useful option for needy youth.

Except for the guarantee that 22 percent of each area’s funds will be reserved for the public schools, community based organizations (CBOs) are funded to do the actual training because either the CBOs volunteer their participation (or they are recruited), or the political clout of some CBOs makes their participation unavoidable. There are two major areas of controversy, which we can note but not resolve. The first has to do with efficiency: Is it better to have a single, area-wide contractor as the central source of help or to maintain an array of smaller, neighborhood-based operations? For most cities, the “intake” process (determining eligibility, diagnosis, placement) is handled centrally and the training decentrally; economies of scale are thus achieved for the intake function but not for the training function. In our analysis, the training program accounted for about a third of the parent organization’s total budget (except for school system). The second question has to do with equity: CBOs are likely to be good at reaching young people who most resemble their own racial or ethnic makeup. Their staff may effectively train young people whose identities they share, but that success may operate (formally or informally) to exclude otherwise eligible young people who do not happen, for example, to be Antarticans. CETA planners encounter these dilemmas whenever they make decisions about the type of sponsors they will fund.

Program Goals and Objectives

We sought to understand the process through which projects determine what to do. In a wholly reasonable world, we might expect manpower planners to determine the distribution of employment needs among groups of young people in their areas. As a second step, they would determine why those young people are unemployed. Then, with the specific causes of unemployment pinpointed and with their populations carefully identified, they would support programs to deal with those causes.

One obvious difficulty is in determining why youngsters are not working. Most of the time, most young people are simply not in the labor market, they are attending school, they are homebound, and some, but not very many, are doing nothing at all. Are those who are unemployed not working because there are no jobs or because young people are unprepared for jobs that do exist? Manpower programs must assume the latter, if for no other reason than that they lack the political muscle to control the employers.

Now what? How should the diligent manpower administrator proceed? It is preferable (but impossible) to know everything about job readiness of all young people. As we have demonstrated, there are large numbers of hard-to-document young people. Many generally held assumptions about other groups of youth are incorrect. What is generally known about young people is not very detailed and often not useful. A high school diploma, for example, does not predict the ability to read or do arithmetic or show up on time. So the first calculations about young people are really “guesstimates.” But what about jobs? It would be nice, but again impossible, to know all the current and future job possibilities in a given area and their functional prerequisites. All contractors make an attempt at a version of this algorithm.

Obviously, there is a long chain of shaky assumptions only more or less descriptive of the process at work. But despite its unreality, the logic is clearly implied by each contractor’s set of decisions about how many of which young people are to get what training for what jobs.

Program Activity

Contractors have a choice of four kinds of activities.

1. Classroom training—100 percent classroom instruction; enrollees get cash allowances.

2. Work experience—100 percent working under supervision; trainees get wages paid by CETA.

3. On-the-job training—no classroom instruction; employers pay a minimum of half the total wage, while CETA pays the remainder.

4. Career experience—combines classroom training with work experience and ordinarily involves exposure to more than a single type of employment. Designed to enhance job readiness.

If there is a combination of activities, the participant is paid according to where the most time is spent.

Most programs studied had had considerable experience working with youth, an average of about fifteen years. Four programs offered additional social services, such as food stamps and health care, through their parent organizations; the others referred needy youth to other sources. Referrals are difficult for everyone, especially the person in need, because they mean additional travel, more interviews, more paperwork, and more delay in getting help. In one program, 50 percent of the referrals were never completed. The training programs are aware of these problems but are not funded to deal with them.

Despite good intentions, the training contractors invest much of their energy in the business of being a “client” of their funding agencies. The U. S. Department of Labor issues rules and regulations intended to provide general guidance while allowing flexible local programming; yet the predictable response to scandal or to political pressure for increased achievement is to tighten regulations, remove discretion, increase auditing, and otherwise centralize operations. Each level responds the same way to the same pressures and for the same wholly understandable reasons. By the time program resources (money, personnel allocations, contracts to deliver services) reach neighborhoods, the contractors are in the position of being “accountable” for something they never determined and cannot control. Flexibility has disappeared, except insofar as experienced field managers can find ways to bend rules, fudge requirements, and otherwise respond to local exigencies in ways that, if discovered, will set off another chain of tighter management controls from above.

Awkward bureaucratic procedures often prevent contracts from getting into the hands of trainers until the programs are almost over. Phone conversations replace written agreements and the rules change depending on who answers the phone. The lack of communication among administrative levels has serious ramifications, especially when the delivery-level training operators begin to feel powerless and alienated. Additional problems come from conflicts between educational and placement goals. Staff insecurity about fiscal constraints is communicated to trainees, some of whom then drop out. Others “complete” one program but, because they do not get jobs, are ping-ponged into another.

Curriculum Analysis

It is difficult to overestimate the challenge to YETP contractors. With a finite number of weeks or months, with a limited stock of pedagogical techniques, and with not even much influence, let alone control, over employer decisions, these contractors seek to make a difference in young lives that are, for the most part, already pretty desolate. When the British royal family wanted the Prince of Wales to learn some “real life” lessons about independence, self-confidence, initiative, and ingenuity, they sought to build those lessons on a substantial foundation. Despite that, they removed Charles from other distractions and sent him 6,000 miles for an extended stay in an Australian “outback” wilderness school. YETP contractors, with many constraints, are routinely expected to accomplish much more with much less. What is the curriculum that they use?

Recent research on teaching demonstrates that some styles are remarkably more successful than others. Children from different social class backgrounds respond differently to different styles of instruction (e.g., large group-teacher dominated, individually guided, etc.). These findings have implications for training programs. Young people who come to training programs from stable, intact, working class-poor families are likely to have a different set of learning needs from those who come from broken homes of extreme poverty and dislocation.

The programs we explored employ a variety of diagnostic instruments, but in general their instructional methods are not as finely calibrated to individual or group learner differences as they might be. Of the programs examined, 70 percent require a minimum sixth-grade reading and math achievement level for entry. But in the South Bronx, 60 percent of the youth had completed not more than eight years of school attendance, and achievement levels in “grade-equivalent” scores lag far behind grade placement. Thus the achievement level excludes many of the young people most in need of help.

The contractors, on the other hand, argue that they are not equipped to provide everything that a grossly uneducated young person needs. Many of them wish they could start wherever a youngster is and bring him or her up to the specifications required for successful job entry; but they lack the time, the teachers, and the material to do that. Since they have not been funded to provide the necessary cascade of services that might make a difference, they consciously exclude those young people who will not be helped by only limited remediation. From that perspective, their tough-minded decision about entry qualifications focuses help on those who can be helped and avoids misleading and frustrating those who need more fundamental services.

Second, they are pressed by their funding agencies to place 60 percent to 75 percent of their trainees in paid employment. Their newly admitted trainees have gone through several years of schooling but have not achieved academically. Underneath their sixth-grade reading and math entry requirement lurk scores of family, personal, and social difficulties. If the contractor sets high academic standards, critics will charge “creaming” and violations of the intent of the CETA legislation to serve the neediest groups. The double-bind is clear: Either the contractor creams and gets job placements, or an open-admission policy prevails at the expense of placements and perhaps of contract renewal.

We looked at the extent to which instruction was mediated by a teacher, self-guided, or provided through an apprenticeship or on-the-job experience. We also looked at the size of the instructional groups. No contractor used computer-assisted instructional packages although several are available and are geared to disadvantaged students. Several contractors used individually guided instruction procedures (generally through workbooks). Only a handful used apprenticeship instruction, although it is a powerful mode of learning and widely successful in other countries. Two-thirds of the programs studied relied on classroom instruction, and about equal numbers used large-group instruction (twenty or more students) as used smaller group instruction. All the classroom instruction was traditional and teacher-directed. If there is a common denominator among young people in these employment training programs, it is their need for educational experiences that differ both in process and outcome from what they experienced at school. These programs did not.

The behavioral objectives of training can be put into three categories: (1) new skills (how to cut carpets, how to operate a lathe); (2) new knowledge (especially in the basics of reading, writing, and computing); and (3) new attitudes (cooperativeness, punctuality). The relative emphasis among the three can be quite important if, for example, skill training assumes a level of knowledge that is not in place. Walking does come before jogging (see Figure 8).

There is clear distinction between the CBO emphasis on skills training and local school authorities’ emphasis on attitudinal changes: 51 percent of what CBOs do prepares youth for specific jobs, while 55 percent of what schools try to do shapes attitudes about work. Even more remarkable is the relative inattention to “knowledge” (including basic skills) when most of the programs serve young people who have documented reading problems and who will not make any headway in the world of work until those prior problems are overcome. Fortunately, new legislation mandates increased and cooperative attention to knowledge as a precursor to employment.


We are very much encouraged by the hard work and accomplishments of youth in New York State. It has become fashionable to believe that schools do not help young people very much and that teenagers are indifferent to them. Many adults criticize young people because of their alleged rejection of the “work ethic.” But we have found more effort and task orientation among youth than is generally understood. And we have found that young people from minority backgrounds, especially those from the poorest families, are the most likely to be putting in overtime at school and at work, chasing the American dream. If the public can understand that large numbers of young people in New York are doing exactly what they did as youth-that is, working hard to better their material and social circumstances-then some of the barriers between generations and between young people and their productive futures may be lowered.

Our conclusions and recommendations fall into three groups: those that deal with the targeting of services, those that concern funding, and those that apply to the training community in general.



The attempt to increase the precision with which program resources help particular groups is commendable and needs to be increased. Age makes a difference in the way time is spent; young people from different races move into jobs and careers differently; young men and young women experience different problems in employment training; and on and on. Contractors ought to be given financial incentives to pay much more attention to those differences than they have so far been able to do, and they must also be held to a focus on those most in need.

Our analysis clearly demonstrates the advantages that middle-class youth have in preparing for jobs, finding good ones, holding them, and moving up. Middle-class youth do not need help. There is not now enough money to adequately serve more needy youth, and therefore we recommend the elimination of the provision in the YEDPA legislation that allows up to 10 percent of the program appropriation to be spent on young people who come from income strata above 85 percent of the Bureau of Labor Statistics lower living standard.

Our findings support the national conclusion that the problem of unemployment is most acute among black youth. Current policies that focus help there ought to be continued and strengthened, But the assistance being made available to black youth does not seem to address the particularities of their situation. Our study indicates that black youth are being somewhat more selective than other minority groups in deciding about acceptable employment. They are also somewhat more experienced, and they have more training and more job-relevant information. Commendably, they are trying to hold themselves available for a job that is related to a career with security, a decent salary, a chance for promotion and contribution. In that, they are similar to the largely middle-class white youth, who are also very selective about working because they can afford to be. What is “good judgment” and “mature behavior” for one group has to be for the other.

There remain specific ways in which black youngsters need help. Half of all our black respondents work or have worked recently, but as a group they have the greatest incidence of exploitation. Half earn less than the minimum wage. Large numbers of black youth need precisely the sorts of vocationally augmented training that YETP exists to provide. Until the rates of black employment are the same as those of other groups, there can be no defense for diminishing public help. In fact, it ought to be increased.

This analysis has uncovered more that was previously undemonstrated about the Hispanic group than about any other. Two of the things that stand out are their industriousness and the effects of their relatively recent arrival in New York. They work hard; but, largely because they are so poor, they cannot afford the luxury of a search for an appropriate job. So they work at the bottom of both of our job scales—low entry scores (minimal pay, little security, etc.) and low career scores (no chance for advancement, no prestige, little job satisfaction). That Hispanic and especially Puerto Rican youth work at such jobs is partly a function of what is available to them: meager opportunities, thinly distributed.

The economic development answer is obvious but beyond reach of the training community. What can be done by contractors and planners is to pay much more attention to the special characteristics of Hispanic youth. At the same time that Spanish-language facility is beginning to be a slight employment advantage, Hispanic youth have not yet been made to understand that government programs are designed for and available to them. That is due in part to the problem of bilingual communication. Contractors should be required to publish and disseminate information in two languages; more than that, the outreach or recruitment efforts of contractors ought to concentrate on accessing Hispanic neighborhoods. The field staff for this analysis conducted over three thousand interviews, many on the street, even though we had nothing tangible to offer in return. We could do that because we relied on existing community organizations for introductions, because we used young people to talk with young people, and because we worked hard to “get inside” the neighborhoods we studied. CBOs know, or should know, their areas much better; besides, they have something to offer. Contractors ought to be supported, assisted, and expected to do a far better job of communicating program information to the Hispanic community than they have to date.

The same injunction applies with respect to those young people who report having family responsibilities of various sorts. We know now that this group is largely housebound, and that most are female and black. They respond differently to schooling and to the work setting than do others, and those characteristics ought to be taken into account in designing training services for them. Specifically, they need clear communication that penetrates their households, they need child care for their children or their younger siblings, transportation, and training experiences that are supportive and job related.

Time spent at school and work increases steadily beginning at about age fifteen and then falls off dramatically at nineteen. We do not ordinarily think of fourteen and fifteen as very appropriate ages for vocational counseling. But many of those young adolescents are also beginning to enter the world of work and are making decisions that shape their lives. That is especially so for the super youth, almost all of whom are working at age fourteen. Collaborative efforts at career education between schools and trainers seem clearly indicated. Similarly, the relative idleness of the nineteen-year-old group indicates a potentially fruitful opportunity for employment-related training.

Targeting services on those most in need is both a formal and an informal matter. Decisions about acceptable scores for program admittance have targeting implications and affect different groups very differently. Decisions made about the intake process (the number of interviews required, the kinds of tests to be taken) and the kind of curriculum to be applied all determine how  well which youth with which characteristics will be served. They also determine who will not be served. Our interviewees talked about “games being run” on them, and they were right. Staff personnel, program planners, and monitors ought to recognize what young people know: that there are many ways to steer programs toward or away from particular groups.


The major operational problem with YETP is the conflict between the way outcomes are measured (specified levels of “positive terminations” [completions and placements]) and the simultaneous injunction that the program serve those most in need of employment-related services. Once “high” levels of positive termination have been set, program operators cannot take risks and feel compelled to cream the applicant population. Every policymaker sets goals that are enough beyond reach to present a challenge. But when set too high, such goals encourage deception and cynicism and fail to provide guidance. The compound pressures of legislative and administrative officials from the three government levels have produced goals that are unrealistic, especially when they are applied uniformly across very dissimilar kinds of young people.

Second, band-aids do not cure measles. Training contractors are correct to point out that there is a relationship between the amount of resources they have and the number and severity of the problems those resources can be expected to ameliorate. Triage is never pretty. The impulse to use the intake process to find those who can be helped and to exclude those who cannot is understandable.

Still, the net effect of current operating policies is to pitch service availability too high in the income strata of the applicant pool, and, second, to spread too few services over too many trainees, with the result that only a few are truly benefited. This “numbers game” can be changed. The burden of our analysis has been to document important variations in the training-related characteristics of youth. The next step should be to estimate the differential cost implications attached to the differing circumstances of young people. To take two rough illustrations: The cost of moving a poor white seventeen-year-old senior class valedictorian into unsubsidized employment may be not much more than his minuscule fraction of the cost of a job information newsletter; but the cost will be much greater to achieve the same goal with a Hispanic, undocumented immigrant young woman who is pregnant. Spending the same amount of money on both is neither equitable nor effective. Unfortunately, we cannot tell either “how much is enough” or “how much is too little” until we do careful cost analyses. Similar analyses in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act demonstrated that federal marginal expenditures of less than $600 per child had no effect; thus, “concentration” rules were developed to ensure that money would be applied in amounts sufficient to yield improvement, or would not be spent at all. We recommend that a study be undertaken of the feasibility and utility of similar concentration rules in YETP.

One very strong reason for that study has to do with another aspect of the creaming problem. Contractors reject some youth because helping them would be too costly given the slight chance of positive outcome. Developing data about the differing costs of services could be used to provide contractors with support on a sliding scale, depending on their trainee characteristics. But it would still be necessary to change the level of goals or outcomes to reflect the known or even hoped-for effects of the training. The marketplace demonstrates every day that some workers are harder to place than others, and that some jobs are harder to fill than others. Reflecting real-world differences in the expected rates of positive termination, by job type and by trainee characteristics, would go a long way toward convincing contractors that they have the flexibility and support necessary to allow them to “risk” serving those most in need of their services. Thus, we recommend a probability index that would incorporate labor-force participation rates with data about job vacancies in different areas. That index could then be used to adjust the expected performance goals of training contractors in ways that are more realistic than is the current practice.

We commend the recent emphasis on basic academic skills development (literacy, numeracy) and look forward to its thorough implementation. The fact that this study demonstrates “knowledge” to be the least emphasized outcome indicates how big a task lies before the training community. It is hoped that this will happen in ways that are more imaginative than the current overemphasis on traditional classroom instruction. That instruction is, after all, what these young people know quite well and like very little.

Finally, multiyear funding should be considered. First, it would reduce some of the paperwork distraction involved in yearly competitions. Second, it would provide some semblance of continuity for program development and stability for staff planning. Third, it might encourage contractors to reflect on their own experiences and learn from them. So-called evaluation data are collected and sent off, but not used. If there were less attention to pro forma evaluation for ostensibly forensic purposes (they are rarely used for that), then contractors might have more inclination to document their own practices and to use that documentation to improve what they already control—their own operations.


In the last decade or so, public school people have been trying to learn that they are not alone. Until the Coleman Report, in 1966, there was a tendency to equate schools with education; but Coleman measured the contribution to educational achievement that can be associated with influences from the family, the media, peers, and the school. When school turned out not to be very high on the rank-ordered list of contributors, and when the shock wore off, public school people began the search for allies and, in some cases, for partners. In a similar fashion, the CBOs and their funding agencies need to continue their efforts to link up with the private sector through private industry councils and other mechanisms. How much, for example, is known about the in-service training programs run by industry for its own employees? Most important, employment professionals should pay more attention to the characteristics of their training populations than has so far been possible. Part of that will require collecting different kinds of information on potentially eligible youth in their areas. Once those data have been gathered, they ought to be used to calibrate training programs to more precise needs. We hope, in collaboration with some training contractors, to explore ways to do that. A likely method involves the creation of informal dissemination networks that will parallel the informal social structure of youth groups and communities.

Third, there is virtually no attention to the analysis of curriculum anywhere outside of schools. Systematic curriculum inquiry, especially when it is self-directed by the trainers themselves and used to inform their own practices, is a powerful tool for improvement. But the rudiments for curriculum analysis are not now in place, and neither is there much felt need for working on the area. This is a natural entry point for the New York State Department of Labor, which could reach out to the expertise available in its sister agency, the State Department of Education, and perform a real service by supporting capacity-building activities in YETP curriculum.

There are two areas of governance that we found troubling. One was a lack of incorporation of young people into program decision making. Participation is a powerful technique for learning, responsibility, cooperation, and self-esteem. Young people ought to be involved in the decisions that affect them. Second, we have already noted that the black community bears the heaviest costs of unemployment. Their familiarity with the situation is greater and so is their investment in its amelioration. But, despite the cost they bear and the knowledge and commitment they offer, they are dramatically underrepresented in policymaking positions dealing with youth employment. And so are other minorities. Just as we are challenging training contractors to reach out to those youth most in need, we challenge government jurisdictions and other agencies to recruit minority leaders sensitive to the needs of young people.

This report should not end without at least recognizing an issue of great difficulty and great potential: the relation between the public schools and the manpower training community. While we are not yet in a position to offer specific recommendations, we must note that New York youth are getting caught between the two institutions. Nothing would be gained by calling for cooperation; in fact, much current competition could be healthy. But the division of labor, the patterns of collaboration or of synergy that ought to characterize the “youth policy system” of the state (for lack of a better term), are simply not in place or even emerging. Our two organizations stand ready to work with others toward a better interaction between schools and training agencies.

Our final recommendation is addressed to youth in New York. At the same time that we would like to congratulate them for the hard work they are putting into building themselves and their futures, we would have them be aware of the price that many of them are paying. There is real poignancy in the situation of a young person from a poor family who is going to school full time and working nearly as much because that is an economic necessity. Public policy can assist such youth: Job information and job-search skills pointed especially at their circumstances ought to be helpful, especially since they already have work experience and the sort of energy and commitment that employers like. Reaching them will be difficult since they have so little free time, are only intermittently connected to the school, and are most likely to be working in business establishments that are as obscure as they are small. But knowledge of those characteristics is the first step toward reaching them. It should be done.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 83 Number 3, 1982, p. 341-376 ID Number: 723, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 10:57:37 PM

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