President George W. Bush's proposed Department of Labor budget
for fiscal year 2008 includes over $1.5 billion for Job Corps, a
job training program for disadvantaged youth. Senator Edward
Kennedy (D-MA) criticized this request as too small. The
best available evidence, however, strongly suggests that Job Corps
is ineffective. While some evaluations of Job Corps support the
program, Congress needs to be aware of three important evaluations
funded by the Labor Department, two of which support the case for
eliminating Job Corps. Based on this evidence, Congress should move
to eliminate this wasteful and unproductive program.
Evaluations of Job Corps
The several evaluations of Job Corps contain numerous findings
that may confuse Members of Congress about the program's
performance. Three major evaluations were funded by the Labor
The first, the 2001 National Job Corps Study: The Impacts of
Job Corps on Participants' Employment and Related Outcomes
("2001 outcome study"), measured the impact of Job Corps on
participants' employment and earnings. While the 2001 outcome study
found some increases in the incomes of participants, the gains were
trivial. For example, compared to non-participants, the estimated
average increase in the weekly incomes of all participants over
four years was never more than $25.20.
The second evaluation, the 2001 National Job Corps Study: The
Benefits and Costs of Job Corps ("2001 cost-benefit study"),
found small increases in income and other benefits due to Job Corps
participation that outweighed the costs of the program to
society. Hence, Job Corps was deemed a "highly
The third evaluation, the National Job Corps Study: Findings
Using Administrative Earnings Records Data ("2003 study"), was
published in 2003, but the Labor Department withheld it from the
general public until 2006. The 2003 study found that Job Corps
participation did not increase employment and earnings. Searching
for something positive to report, the 2003 study concludes that
"There is some evidence, however, of positive earnings gains for
those ages 20 to 24."
Why Withhold the 2003 Study?
Based on survey data, the 2001 cost-benefit study assumed that
the gains in income for participants will last indefinitely, a
notion unsupported by the literature on job training. But
included in the 2003 study is a cost-benefit analysis that directly
contradicts the positive findings of the 2001 cost-benefit
The 2003 study used official government data, instead of
self-reported data, and used the more reasonable assumption that
benefits decay, rather than last indefinitely. Contradicting the
2001 cost-benefit study, the 2003 study's analysis of official
government data found that the benefits of Job Corps do not
outweigh the cost of the program. Even more damaging, the 2003
study re-estimated the 2001 cost-benefit study with the original
survey data using the realistic assumption that benefits decay over
time. According to this analysis, the program's costs again
outweighed its benefits.
Is Job Corps Worth $1.5 Billion Per
Some argue that Job Corps is worth $1.5 billion per year because
there is "some evidence" of positive income gains for those aged 20
to 24. This belief is based on the findings that
these participants had consistently higher annual incomes from 1998
to 2001 than non-participants of similar age. But this
conclusion is questionable. In 1998, participants aged 20 to 24
experienced an average increase in annual income of $476 that, by
traditional scientific standards, is statistically
significant, meaning that the income gains are very likely
attributable to Job Corps. For the remaining years, the income
gains were positive, ranging from $429 to $375, but
statistically insignificant, meaning that the findings
cannot be attributed to participation in Job Corps. Thus, it cannot
be concluded that Job Corps consistently raised the incomes of
participants aged 20 to 24.
By the logic of the 2003 study, a stronger case can be made that
Job Corps consistently reduced the incomes of female participants
without children. In 1998 and 1999, childless female participants
earned $1,243 and $1,401 less, respectively, than similar
non-participants. These findings are statistically
significant, suggesting that Job Corps had a harmful effect. In
2000 and 2001, the earnings of childless female participants were
still beneath those of their counterparts, but the differences are
statistically insignificant, indicating that the declines in income
are not attributable to Job Corps--just like most of the income
gains for participants aged 20 to 24 in the 2003 study.
A Predictable Failure
The 2003 study's findings are not surprising because the 2001
outcome study found Job Corps ineffective at substantially
increasing participants' wages and moving them into full-time
The 2001 outcome study revealed that Job Corps had little impact
on the number of hours worked per week. During the course of the
study, the average time participants spent working each week never
rose above 28.1 hours. Average participants never worked more
than two hours per week more than those in the control group.
If Job Corps actually improves the skills of its participants,
then it should have substantially raised their hourly wages. The
2001 studyfound participants earned 24 cents more per hour than
non-participants. Six months later, this difference had
decreased to 22 cents per hour.
Job Corps does not provide the skills and training to
substantially raise the wages of participants. Costing $21,500 per
participant over an average participation period of eight months,
the program is a waste of taxpayers' dollars.
Given Job Corps' poor performance, the Bush Administration's
$1.5 billion spending proposal is unreasonable. Job Corps is not
the "highly successful" program it is touted to be. Congress should
move to eliminate this wasteful and unproductive program.
Muhlhausen,Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for
Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
Peter Z. Schochet, John Burghardt, and Steven Glazerman,
National Job Corps Study: The Impacts of Job Corps on
Participants' Employment and Related Outcomes (Princeton, N.J.:
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., June 2001).
Sheena McConnell and Steven Glazerman, National Job Corps Study:
The Benefits and Costs of Job Corps, (Princeton, N.J.:
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., June 2001).
Erik Eckholm, "Job Corps Plans Makeover for a Changed Economy,"
New York Times, February 20, 2007, at www.nytimes.com/2007/02/20/washington/20jobcorps.html
(February 28, 2007) and Peter Z. Schochet, Sheena McConnell, and
John Burghardt, National Job Corps Study: Findings Using
Administrative Earnings Records Data: Final Report, (Princeton,
N.J.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., October 2003).
Pedro Carneiro and James Heckman, "Human Capital Policy," NBER
Working Paper No. 39495, February 2003.
Peter Z. Schochet, Sheena McConnell, and John Burghardt,
National Job Corps Study: Findings Using Administrative Earnings
Records Data: Final Report.
Ibid., Table III.5, p. 66.
Ibid, Table III.5, p. 67.
Peter Z. Schochet, John Burghardt, and Steven
Glazerman, National Job Corps Study: The Impacts of Job Corps on
Participants' Employment and Related Outcomes.
David B. Muhlhausen, "Do Jobs Programs Work?
A Review Article," Journal of Labor Research, Vol. 26, No. 2
(2005), pp. 299-321 and John Burghardt, Peter Z. Schochet, Sheena
McConnell, Terry Johnson, R. Mark Gritz, Steven Glazerman, John
Homrighausen, and Russell Jackson, Does Job Corps Work? Summary
of the National Job Corps Study (Princeton, N.J.: Mathematica
Policy Research, Inc., June 2001), p. 4.