Job Corps Delivers, Study Says

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The most extensive study of Job Corps in nearly 20 years says the nation's largest youth employment training program is worth the money.

Jobs Corps participants work more hours, earn more income and commit less crime than similar youth not in the program, says the report released last month by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The report says every dollar spent on Job Corps produces $2.02 worth of returns through higher earnings, taxes paid by participants, and savings in public expenditures such as criminal justice and welfare.

The program slightly reduces reliance on public assistance and does not affect illegal drug use or pregnancy, says the report by Mathematica Policy Research. It found that working and earnings benefits did not extend to Hispanic youth.

The report comes at time when Job Corps supporters are concerned about funding. After nearly a decade of  increases under the Clinton administration (from $919.5 million in 1992 to the current $1.4 billion), President George Bush's first budget seeks no change in funding next year.

Bush's budget request "threatens the continued quality of the program," said former Republican Congressman Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, now a National Job Corps Association board member, in a prepared statement coinciding with the report's release. The trade association has asked Congress for another $100 million for Job Corps to compensate for inflation, raises and the planned opening of three new centers next year in Delaware, Louisiana and Rhode Island.

Job Corps, created in 1964, serves 60,000 new participants (ages 16-24) each year, with 88 percent of them living among the 118 Job Corps sites operated by contractors (ranging from large companies like ResCare, the Ky.-based residential contractor, to nonprofits like the YWCA of Los Angeles). It is "one of the most expensive education and training programs currently available to youth," the new report notes.  

The last extensive study of Job Corps, in 1982, found that Job Corps returned $1.46 for every dollar invested. The new study cost $21 million and is based on random samples of Jobs Corps participants and a control group of non-participants who applied in 1994 and 1995. (Some of the control group members enrolled in other employment training programs.) The study followed the youths for four years. It found that Job Corps participants and graduates:

  • Worked more hours after graduating from Job Corps.
  • Earned an average of $22 more per week in the fourth "follow-up year" (mostly because they worked more hours, and partly because they earned more per hour).
  • Received an average of one extra school year's worth of education and training (1,000 hours), and improved their literacy and "numeracy" skills.
  • Were significantly more likely to earn GEDs (42 percent for participants vs. 27 percent for non-participants).
  • Were less likely to be arrested during the four-year follow-up period (29 percent of participants vs. 33 percent of non-participants).

The report says Job Corps costs about $14,000 per participant, while its benefits amount to $31,000 over each youth's lifetime.

Mathematica says it cannot explain the lack of impact for Hispanics, even after considering factors such as personal and family characteristics, language barriers, geography or length of time in the program. Andrew Hahn, a workforce expert and director of the Heller School's master's degree program in children, youth and family studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, says it's no surprise. "They may be well-trained in the Job Corps center," Hahn says, but many of the jobs (such as manufacturing work) that Latino youth train for are leaving the poor urban communities where they live.

One of the long-standing issues for Job Corps, Hahn says, is that participants do work more than non-participants but don't necessarily earn a lot more per hour. "The bulk of the impact is that they're motivating people to work hard, which is not anything to demean," Hahn says.

Sam Halpern, senior fellow at the American Youth Policy Forum, praises Job Corps but cautions that the new findings "reflect a relatively improving job market" during the period studied. The long-term question, he says, is how Job Corps' benefits and cost compare with less expensive youth job training programs.

Consider YouthBuild, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded construction and education program that currently enrolls about 6,000 young people (ages 16-24). A sample of nearly 1,300 YouthBuild participants last year showed that 36 percent of those who needed a diploma or GED got one, and that 86 percent were placed in jobs or school. However, YouthBuild has not had a longitudinal or control group study as Job Corps has had.

YouthBuild U.S.A., the Mass.-based nonprofit that serves as a national support center for YouthBuild programs, wants the program expanded to Job Corps proportions. It submitted a  plan to Congress this year under which YouthBuild would grow to $1.2 billion by 2010, serving 60,000 young people.

President Bush's budget request also flatlines YouthBuild's HUD allocation at $60 million next year. (The program also gets local and philanthropic funds.) YouthBuild U.S.A. President Dorothy Stoneman sees no threat there; she says YouthBuild has strong bipartisan support and she is optimistic about future funding increases.

Contact: Mathematica, (609) 799-3535.