The $1.7 Billion Federal Job Training Program Is a Massive Failure

The program's goals might be admirable, but the reality is a whole different story.


Jim West imageBROKER/Newscom

The Department of Labor's Job Corps program is supposed to teach disadvantaged young people the skills they need to get good jobs. But the program, which costs taxpayers about $1.7 billion per year, is apparently a failure.

About 50,000 students enroll in the program each year, about two-thirds of whom are high school dropouts, according to The New York Times. Results aside, the program's goals are admirable. As The Wall Street Journal reported in April:

Launched in 1964, Job Corps works with 16- to 24-year-olds who grew up homeless or poor, passed through foster care, or suffered other hardships. The goal is to equip these young adults with skills for careers in advanced manufacturing, the building trades, health care, information technology, business and more.

Unfortunately, that's not what's happening. A March audit from the Labor Department's Office of Inspector General sampled 324 Job Corps participants who were five years removed from graduation. The median annual income of 231 of those participants (wage records weren't available for the rest), was just $12,486 as of December 2016. The audit acknowledged that "Job Corps could not demonstrate beneficial job training outcomes."

That's not all. Job Corps spends about $50 million a year on "transition services" to help graduates find jobs. But in 94 percent of the cases sampled, "Job Corps contractors could not demonstrate they had assisted participants in finding jobs."

The program's failure is perhaps best seen at the North Texas Job Corps Center, which is a roughly 40-minute drive from Dallas. While the Dallas economy is booming, this center is one of the poorest-performing Job Corps campuses in the nation. Violence is an issue, particularly gang-related incidents. It doesn't help that students at this center—and at all Job Corps campuses around the country—have to live together.

One former North Texas teacher, who quit in 2015, says the entire program is failing. "Job Corps doesn't work," the teacher, Teresa Sanders, tells the Times. "The adults are making money, the politicians are getting photo ops. But we are all failing the students."

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta admits the program "requires fundamental reform."

"It is not enough to make changes at the margins," he tells the Times. "We need large-scale changes."

Despite its shortcomings, Jobs Corps is popular among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress (to Democrats, it's a government program aimed at reducing poverty; to Republicans, it incentivizes hard work), so there's only so much Acosta can do. "You have a program with a rich and complicated history that's one of the biggest leftovers from the war on poverty, and it is enormously complicated to make any significant changes," Eric M. Seleznow, a former deputy assistant secretary for the Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration during the Obama administration, tells the Times. He notes that "competing interests from Congress, program operators, advocates, as well as complex legal requirements present a lot of challenges."

If Job Corps is salvageable, then it can do some real good. But if real reforms aren't going to happen, Congress should shut it down.