NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A $1.7 Billion Program That Doesn't Work

May 22, 2014

Less than half of students enrolled in the most expensive job training program within the Labor Department complete their training and find a job, reports the Washington Post.

Part of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" was the Job Corps, a job training program intended to teach trade skills to troubled youth. The program is still in place today, and students can take cooking classes, study to be a nurse or learn the plumbing trade from government instructors. But a single year of training and job placement costs taxpayers a whopping $45,000.

The Treasure Lake Job Corps center in Oklahoma participates in the program, but it is not at all clear that the program is worth the cost. Recent statistics show that only 49 percent of Treasure Lake students completed their training, and of that 49 percent, only 55 percent found jobs in the fields for which they were trained.

The program is the Labor Department's most expensive, costing $1.7 billion in 2014 with spots for 37,000 young Americans to participate in the training program.

  • The Job Corps has 125 centers across the country. Enrollees must be at least 16 years old and from low-income families. More than 50 percent of enrollees do not have a high school diploma.
  • Accepted students live at the centers for free, and a standard stay lasts for nine to 11 months. Students take academic and vocational classes as well as courses on writing resumes and interviewing for jobs.

Is the program worth it? While the program has changed lives -- George Foreman learned boxing at a Job Corps center, and some alumni have become doctors, judges and business owners -- only 59 percent of students actually complete their training, and many of those are not actually prepared for employment.

Moreover, audits have determined that some Job Corps officials have exaggerated the program's success: when a student who was trained in the Job Corps cooking program got a job as a funeral attendant, the Labor Department counted the job as a match to his culinary training.

A nine-year study that began in 1995 attempted to quantify the success of the Job Corps program. Researchers studied 15,000 students who applied for the program and compared the results of the students who attended with those who did not:

  • While participants had greater educational gains and fewer arrests, as well as 12 percent higher wages four years after attending the program, the wage benefits disappeared after four years, with Job Corps students earning the same as the others.
  • Moreover, the cost of Job Corps outweighed the social benefits of the program (such as reduced crime and reduced use of welfare benefits).

Source: David A. Fahrenthold, "Great Society at 50: LBJ's Job Corps will cost taxpayers $1.7 billion this year. Does it work?" Washington Post, May 19, 2014. 


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