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New Job-Training Report Says 'Creaming' Charges Not Valid

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Washington--The government's new $3.6-billion job-training program is serving substantially the same groups that its predecessor did, argues a new Department of Labor study.

And another report from the General Accounting Office, in a finding that suggests a shift from previous practice, notes that secondary schools are in many cases not active participants in the training activities being set up under the federal program.

Critics have charged that the new Job Partnership Training Act, despite provisions targeting the youngest and most disadvantaged groups among the unemployed, is focusing its efforts on older, more employable trainees.

The Labor Department report, the fourth in a series of studies by Westat Inc., a Rockville, Md., consulting firm, found that the "target groups" served by the Job Training Partnership Act of 1983 are the same as those served by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which the jtpa replaced in 1983.

'Creaming' Problem

Earlier studies by Westat and other organizations claimed that the increased involvement of the private sector, the high performance standards required by the program, and the absence of stipends for work experience has caused "creaming," meaning that the jtpa is attracting those who need the least training assistance at the expense of the severely disadvantaged. (See Education Week, Jan. 23, 1985.)

The Westat study released last week, however, argues that "the data do not support any simplistic notion of 'creaming' by jtpa People with serious labor-market difficulties, as evidenced by lengthy unemployment spells, dominate the jtpa participant group."

Set-Asides for Youths

Nearly half of the money allocated to jtpa goes to Title IIA of the program, which serves the disadvantaged, and local agencies are re-el-60l

quired to spend about 40 percent of that money on youths 16 to 21 years of age. According to the report, 36 percent of the youths served under the program are black and 10 percent are Hispanic. Similarly, under ceta, 37 percent of those served were black and 11.9 percent were Hispanic.

The study also found that 19.4 percent of the young participants were receiving Aid for Families With Dependent Children, compared with 23.7 percent under ceta. Some 58.2 percent were high-school dropouts, compared with 62.2 percent in ceta.

The study also points out that the proportion of participants who had been unemployed for long periods (14 weeks or more) is much higher under the j.t.p.a. than it was under ceta. But the proportion of participants with no prior unemployment--those just entering the labor market--was substantially higher under ceta.

Robert Cooke, a Westat researcher, said the statistics show that the jtpa serves more experienced workers, while ceta was geared more toward participants just entering the job market.

'Middle of the Barrel'

"No jurisdiction is serving only the most job-ready or only those most in need," the report notes. "All provide some service to each group; the differences are in the degree and the direction of their attention."

"This 'middle of the barrel' strategy may represent the best balance of selection procedures for a [Service Delivery Area] that faces resource constraints combined with performance standards," the report continues.

But William Grinker, president of Grinker, Walker, and Associates, which is conducting a series of comprehensive reports on the program for the National Commission for Employment Policy and the Ford Foundation, questions the conclusions reached by Westat.

"There is no question the jtpa is serving disadvantaged people," he said. "But when you have a population that large, and a program that small, you can always find disadvantaged people who fit into [those] categories. The problem is whether the kind of people you are serving are the people who need it the most, [whether] you are getting behind those broad numbers."

Set-Asides a 'Strain'

The Westat report also confirmed the organization's earlier findings that almost all the local jtpa administrators "feel strained" by having to fulfill the law's requirement that substantial funding be devoted to programs for youths. However, the study notes that about 63 percent of the local administrators said they would reach the targeted goal.

The study points out that most local administrators do not want to serve young high-school students, in general choosing to serve dropouts or high-school seniors. It notes that the standards the local agencies are required to meet in terms of job placement may play a role in this unwillingness to serve students; a student who simply remains in school is not considered a "positive termination," while a dropout who returns to school or a graduate who gets a job will help a local training agency meet its placement goals.

gao Study

Another report, issued this month by the General Accounting Office, backed up many of the findings of the Westat report, but did not address the creaming issue, saying the jtpa was too new at the time of the survey to assess it. But it did note that high-school dropouts and welfare recipients were the most frequently targeted priority groups by local administrators.

The gao study also reported that most states have not made specific training arrangements with secondary and postsecondary vocational-education agencies, despite the fact that the jtpa urges each state to achieve a coordinated employment, training, and vocational-education system.

The report found that only 27 of the 57 state agencies (including the District of Columbia and 6 territories) had made arrangements with secondary-education agencies, 27 had created ties with vocational education, and 25 had established links with postsecondary-education programs.

"Many local education agencies have been reluctant to restructure their curricula and create more intensive, shorter-term training to meet the immediate job needs of the economically disadvantaged," the report notes.

Gene Bottoms, executive director of the American Vocational Assocation, disagreed, saying, "I don't think the educational community is unwilling to restructure curricula for disadvantaged youths. But we are very reluctant to get into project situations that run for a brief period of time, then close."

Training time under the jtpa averages about 8 to 10 weeks. The training period must be lengthened to serve jtpa participants adequately, Mr. Bottoms said.

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