Cato Policy Analysis No. 77 August 28, 1986

Policy Analysis

The Failure of Federal Job Training

by James Bovard

James Bovard is a Washington journalist who has written on jobs programs for the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and other publications.


Executive Summary

Federal job-training programs have harmed the careers of millions of Americans, failed to impart valuable job skills to the poor, and squandered billions of dollars annually. For 25 years, government programs have warped work ethics, helped disillusion generations of disadvantaged youth, and deluged America with fraudulent statistics. After spending over a hundred billion dollars on manpower programs[1] we have learned little or nothing: today's programs merely repeat the mistakes of the early 1960s. Federal programs have reduced the incomes of millions of trainees and have helped create a growing underclass of permanently unemployed Americans.

In the last 25 years, we have had more than 50 different federal training programs--yet unemployment rates have kept increasing; indeed, they have soared among groups targeted by government jobs programs. Every few years the names of the programs are changed and the politicians and Labor Department swear that success is just around the next budgetary bend, but little or nothing improves.

Amazingly, the federal government has stayed in the training business for a quarter of a century without any major success to show for it. America has been served an alphabet soup of failed jobs programs--from MDTA (Manpower Development and Training Administration), to CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act), YEDTP (Youth Entitlement Demonstration and Training Program), JTPA (Job Training Partnership Act), AYES (Alternate Youth and Employment Strategies), STEADY (Special Training and Employment Assistance for Disadvantaged Youth), STIP, BEST, YIEPP, YACC, SCSEP, HIRE, ad infinitum.[2]

Federal training failures have been masked by endless statistical shams. The Department of Labor has strained for 25 years to expand the definition of "success"--from counting Job Corps trainees as employed simply by confirming that they had a job interview, to counting as permanently employed people who spend one day on a new job, to counting as a major achievement teaching 17-year-olds to make change from a dollar. DOL's abuse of statistics epitomizes the welfare state's disregard of the evidence of its failure. A 1979 Washington Post investigation concluded, "Incredibly, the government has kept no meaningful statistics on the effectiveness of these programs--making the past 15 years' effort almost worthless in terms of learning what works."[3] Since 1979, DOL has perfected its ostrich act and now knows almost nothing about how its training programs are operating on the state and local levels.

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1986 The Cato Institute
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