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Job-Training Act Failing Youths,Analyses Find

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The government's new multi-billion-dollar employment-training program is falling far short of its mandate to aid disadvantaged young people, the first nationwide studies of the program have found.

Although some $1.44 billion--or about 20 percent of each of the first two $3.6-billion annual appropriations for the new Job Training Partnership Act--has been allocated to programs for disadvantaged youths between the ages of 16 and 21, the studies indicate that the proportion actually channeled to teen-agers has been substantially lower than that.

According to statistics from the U.S. Labor Department, as of last month, 1.5 million young people, or 18.8 percent of all those between the ages of 16 and 19 were unemployed; 42.1 percent of black teen-agers were jobless. About 6.7 million adults over the age of 20 were unemployed.

Least Prepared, Poorest Served

The studies, the latest of which have not yet been released, also found that the young teen-agers least able to prepare for and begin work are the poorest served. Older youths with more education and more "job-readiness" skills are better able to meet the jtpa's requirements and fill the available places in training programs, according to the research.

The new studies are the latest in two series--one being completed with support from the Ford Foundation, the National Commission for Employment Policy, and others, by the research firm of Grinker, Walker, and Associates, and the other being done for the Department of Labor by Westat Inc., also a research firm. A recent study by the National Alliance for Business reached similar conclusions.

The studies involved telephone and on-site interviews with state and local officials.

ceta's Replacement

The jtpa, launched in October 1983 to replace the 10-year-old Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, differs from its predecessor in a number of respects. The authorizing law mandates more emphasis on training--70 percent of all funds under jtpa must go to training, while 18 percent of ceta's funds were channeled into that area. It provides virtually no subsidized work experience or stipends, as did ceta, and it emphasizes state control over programs.

It also calls for greater involvement by the private sector through the establishment of Private Industrial Councils, or pic's, to work with local officials in creating programs. At the local level, the areas are divided into "service-delivery areas" or sda's, which are geographical jurisdictions of 200,000 or more inhabitants.

About half of the jtpa's first two appropriations--each about $3.6 billion--has been allocated to Title IIA, the provision requiring training services for the economically disadvantaged. And about 40 percent of that funding is targeted for young people between the ages of 16 and 21. (See Education Week, Oct. 20, 1982.)

Success, Excepting Youths

Under the jtpa, the studies found, participation and job-placement rates have been high among every segment of the population except youths.

The Grinker, Walker study also found that participation and placement goals for most groups, other than the youth population, have been met, with 22 of the 25 sda's evaluated having equaled or surpassed their placement goals, according to the Grinker, Walker study. A third of the sites reported that high placement rates were the most outstanding achievement of the program so far.

However, the studies agreed that high performance standards, low stipends, and heavier involvement by the private sector have translated into services for those more "job-ready," as opposed to those "most in need," whom the act is designed to serve.

Findings of the Grinker, Walker study indicate that despite the jtpa's mandate that, on the average, at least 40 percent of training funds be spent on youths, local sda's are only allocating an average of 26 percent of their training funds for that population.

A Westat researcher said that firm's studies found a higher proportion, but not as high as 40 percent.

According to the Westat report, in fiscal 1981, youths accounted for 42 percent of all new enrollees in nonsummer ceta programs.

'Tough Recruitment Problem'

"The youth segment is proving to be a tough recruitment problem, largely because of the elimination of support payments," the Westat study quoted one local jtpa official as saying. "[T]he increase in the target level of spending on youths combined with the elimination of support, and thus the reduction in the motivation for youth participation, has made achieving this target very difficult."

Fred Romero, an administrator with the office of strategic planning in the Labor Department, conceded that the department expected enrollments to "be a little higher." He said 618,000 people were placed, while a goal was set at 750,000. However, the figure was not broken down between adult and youth participants.

Performance Standards

Under the performance standards set by the Labor Department for jtpa, agencies that provide youth training programs must have a job-placement rate of at least 41 percent; a "positive-termination" rate of at least 82 percent, which can be met if program participants are either employed, back in school, or in the armed forces; and an expense of no more than $4,900 per youth. A local council that does not meet specific performance standards within two years may be reorganized. No such sanctions existed under ceta.

'Creaming' Issue

The Labor Department notes that as of June 30, 94 percent of jtpa training participants were economically disadvantaged and that 33 percent of those served were black and 10 percent were Hispanic. But the studies say that the high performance standards and lack of stipends for those in the training programs is causing a problem called "creaming.'' That means, they explain, the programs are attracting the more employable of the disadvantaged at the expense of the severely disadvantaged.

According to the Grinker, Walker study, "sda administrators in 74 percent of the sample sites believed that the act's limitations on support services and work experience, denial of stipends, and high performance standards would make the jtpa attractive only to eligible individuals with few service needs. It would attract those who were better educated, better off financially, better motivated, and more job-ready."

"The legislation won't tolerate6failure," said one jtpa official quoted in the Grinker, Walker study. "That means it won't tolerate risk. We're in a phase where government is under attack, so we're focusing on success. No government is going to take much risk on tough groups unless that government feels it has lots of support to do so. jtpa doesn't give youth much support."

The increased involvement by the private sector has contributed to this problem, the Grinker, Walker study notes. The Private Industry Councils "saw jtpa primarily as a vehicle to connect economically disadvantaged individuals with labor-market needs in the most efficient manner, not as a means of bringing individuals most in need of assistance into the workforce," the study says.

However, the Westat study noted that the question of "creaming versus performance is not as clear cut as it is often posed."

In fact, one local official said in the Westat study that "given the limited funding for jtpa and the desire to make it a training program, [creaming] is a desirable outcome. It will allow more training and probably greater gains from a limited budget."

Shift To Older Workers

Not only is the shift toward those with more employable skills but it is also away from young teen-agers. The Grinker, Walker study found that almost 70 percent of the field sites were focusing youth programming on people between 19 and 21 years old and funding a minimum of programs for 16-to-18-year-olds.

"This priority generally arose not from an analysis of local needs or policy goals, but from a perception of what could be achieved under the Act," the study noted.

Dropout Programs

High-school dropouts are noted in particular in the studies as being left on the outside by the jtpa's lack of stipends and focus on employability.

Quoting one sda official in a large city, the Westat study said, "... the problem with most youths who need this assistance is that they have already had it with classroom training, lecturing, counseling and so forth. The reason that they have either dropped out of school or are likely to is probably that they want money, not a $6 per day support allowance to hear lectures about good work habits."

The Grinker, Walker study found that less than half of the officials surveyed said they intended to take specific measures to ensure that drop-outs were "equitably" represented in proportion to the number of dropouts in the general disadvantaged population, as specified in the act.

"Though it was easy to find agreement among local government and pic officials that dropouts were seriously at risk in today's labor market and were in need of program support, it was less easy to find confidence among either group that jtpa was the appropriate vehicle for such assistance, let alone that special efforts should be undertaken to ensure their participation," the study said.

In fact, later findings from the Grinker, Walker study charge that most sda's were not developing special programs for dropouts, but were instead meeting their statutory quota by "counting the dropouts who happen to be participating in regular jtpa programs."

Some experts also pointed out that dropouts may be counted as simply those without high-school diplomas, which could include adults who have already had years of work experience.

According to preliminary Grinker, Walker figures, 24 percent of the youths served under the act were in school, and 36 percent had high-school diplomas.

Short-Term Training

Another problem pointed to by the studies is that of time. The length of training programs under the jtpa is shorter than suggested in the legislation, according to the studies, and that may negatively affect the ability of young people to succeed through the program.

The Grinker, Walker study noted that the training time averages 8.2 weeks, as opposed to the 22 weeks envisioned in the law.

Mr. Romero, the Labor Department administrator, disputed that figure, however, saying the number is closer to 12 weeks.

"Under ceta, we probably overemphasized jobs. In jtpa, we overemphasize training. And because of the performance standards, they are driven to short-term training, to get higher placements," said Gordon Berlin, program officer for employment and training with the Ford Foundation.

"Kids programs are getting folded into adult programs," he said. "And it's pretty clear that kids have somewhat different needs."

Mr. Berlin said many local jtpa administrators are raising entry-level standards by requiring 8th- or 9th-grade reading levels for participation.

"Most of the core disadvantaged are only reading at the 5th- or 6th-grade level," he noted.

Question of Purpose

Those involved in the field say the question now is really one of the purpose of the jtpa and what direction it will take in the future.

"The contrast between the targeting philosophy stated in the majority of sda plans and the position of a majority of pic representatives seems to reflect not so much a difference over what jtpa is than over what it ought to be," the Grinker, Walker study noted.

Alexander Hahn, associate dean at the Heller Graduate School of Public Policy and an expert on youth employment, said it is an "honest, straightforward philosophical question--should [the jtpa] 'serve the most disadvantaged of the disadvantaged, or be a manpower-training program. Now it is the latter; we need both. It's true that everyone who is served is economically disadvantaged, but research shows that the disadvantaged population is heterogeneous."

Mr. Hahn noted, however, that "the fact remains that comprehensive training is very expensive, and I can understand why people are reluctant to do it."

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