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April 23 2018

Job Corps: Failure with a Big Price Tag

by Charlotte Hays

Government job training programs are a popular talking point for politicians.

The Jobs Corps, one of the best-known federal jobs training programs, which trains 16-24 year olds who grew up poor or homeless, was launched in 1964. So it has helped thousands of people get better jobs, right?

Unfortunately, after a $1.7 billion expenditure, a new Inspector General report indicates otherwise. According to the Wall Street Journal, it found:

 Job Corps’ record-keeping is a hot mess, but in 27 of 50 cases where full employment data existed, graduates were working the same sort of low-wage, low-skill jobs they held before training. One participant completed 347 days of Job Corps carpentry training but five years later worked as a convenience-store clerk for $11,000 a year. Job Corps called this as a successful outcome, so what do failures look like?

Fifty thousand people enrolled in the Job Corps last year, with many living in Job Corp dorms.  Job Corps respite trainees receive meals, medical care, books, clothing and supplies in addition to an allowance for childcare and other expenses. This broke down to $33,990 per student last year.

In 2011 the IG found the program matched more than 1,500 students with “jobs that required little or no previous work-related skills, knowledge, or experience, such as fast food cooks and dishwashers that potentially could have been obtained without Job Corps training.” The audit also found Job Corps had placed nearly one in five graduates in jobs that “did not relate or poorly related to the students’ training.”

I am guessing many participants see the Job Corps program as a relatively pleasant interlude in their lives and either know it will make little difference in obtaining work or experience a rude awakening when the program ends and they find that their work prospects are not meaningfully improved.

But there is one group whose prospects are enormously improved by the Job Corps:

The new report suggests that Job Corps’ biggest beneficiaries may be government contractors, not rookie job seekers. Job Corps spent more than $100 million between 2010 and 2011 on transition-service specialists to place students in a job after training.

But among 324 sampled Job Corps alumni, the IG found evidence that contractors had helped a mere 18 find work. The contractors often claimed credit for success even though they provided no referrals or résumé and interview help. Overall, the IG estimates that Job Corps paid contractors some $70.7 million for transition services they failed to adequately perform.

Nor does Job Corps have a stellar record for safety and dealing with crime. Job Corps reportedly failed to report around 40 per cent of incidents of potentially criminal misconduct to the police.  

The U.S. economy has jobs going begging for lack of skilled workers to fill them.  Job Corps does not seem to be helping graduates prepare for or obtain these jobs.

And yet can you imagine the outcry if the Trump administration followed the advice of the Wall Street Journal editors if the Trump administration took a good look at the Job Corps program?  Cries of cruelty would erupt.

For a lot of people that we have been spending this money since 1964 is good enough reason to shut our eyes and continue. The real cruelty is that it doesn't help people and perhaps creates despair for those who go through the program and find nothing has changed.

Job training is one of my pet peeves. One of the things (I date myself) that moved me from being a liberal towards being a conservative was covering a federal jobs program as a young reporter in New Orleans. It not only wasn't working but those who administered it were often quite cynical.

The best job training program is an entry level job.Nothing teaches you how to work like working. 

Yet unrealistic hikes in the minimum wage in many places have eliminated a lot of entry level jobs. As Patrice points out, unnecessary licensing for many jobs is another way to reduce work opportunities.

So instead we support federal programs that are built on empty promises and have a big price tab. What politician can go wrong promising more job training?

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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