Friday, August 10, 2001

400 more youths in jobs since mid-July

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Organizers of a citywide summer job program in Cincinnati say they've placed about 400 youth workers in jobs since mid-July, bringing the total to 2,320 since the program was announced in May.

        The total could climb even higher, to 2,400, once all job placements through the program have been documented and confirmed, they say.

        But about half of the youths hired within the past two to three weeks are already out of a job or will be out of one next week when taxpayer funding for their positions runs out.

        John Bryant, retired head of the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative who helped organize the summer job initiative, said that about half the program's recent hires have been 14- to 15-year-old students whose jobs are being funded with unspent Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds from Hamilton County.

        The county set aside $1 million to fund those jobs, but “the money is gone,” Mr. Bryant said, and most of those jobs will end before the school year begins.

        “Most of the jobs either ended this past weekend, or will end this coming week,” he said.

        Still, job program officials say they are proud of their accomplishments and believe that even students who receive only a few weeks' pay through the program are better off than they were without it.

        “Would you say it is better to work for six weeks, or be out on the street for six weeks?” asked John Pepper, Procter & Gamble's chairman and spokesman for the job program. The $2.9 million program is being funded by taxpayers and by private companies, including P&G.

        Mr. Pepper said he considers the job program a success, especially considering the obstacles it had to overcome.

        “We set out to find as many jobs as we could for kids that we could find money to cover,” Mr. Pepper said. “We recruited them as fast as we could with the late start we had. You get into a situation where you do the best you can.”

        City officials, led by Mayor Charlie Luken, promised to place 3,000 needy teens in summer jobs when the program was announced in the wake of the April riots and civil unrest.

        More than 3,000 youths attended a job fair in May and applied for those jobs. Two months later, about half were still waiting for jobs.

        Officials cited insufficient staffing and too much red tape for the slow start.

        But Mr. Pepper said job program coordinators will use what they learned this year to avoid the same pitfalls next year.

        “Be assured we'll take our learning and aim to use it to provide an improved program with more advanced planning next year,” he said.

        In the meantime, job program officials say employment through the program is ongoing.

        Some youth workers — mainly seasonal workers employed by private enterprises such as Paramount's Kings Island — could keep their jobs until as late as October, Mr. Bryant said.

        And some, working after school in “transition to employment” jobs, such as cashiers at Kroger's, could continue working throughout the school year, he said.

        City Councilman Phil Heimlich, who has demanded greater accountability from job program coordinators, applauded “Mr. Pepper and others who have worked on this program for the good work that they've done.”

        But he said he still wants to know “how many kids signed up for the program and never got placed,” and “where all the dollars have gone.”

        Said Mr. Bryant: “All of the money that has been allocated or approved by (Hamilton County) we will have expended on the kids ages 14 to 15. We will have to wait until we have the final payroll and accounting for the kids who basically are being paid by their employer.”

        Added Mr. Pepper: “The oversight is intense in that the kids get the money they earn. Overwhelmingly the money is going to the kids. It's not for overhead.”


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