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Young Dropouts Benefit Little From J.T.P.A., Study Finds

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Young dropouts benefit little from federally funded job-training programs, according to a long-term national study.

The study of the Job Training Partnership Act, prepared for the Labor Department, indicates that adult men and women who participated in the program increased their earnings by more than $1,500 in the 30 months after they completed the training.

But out-of-school youths who participated showed no significant improvement in earnings, regardless of the services they received.

In addition, while participation in the J.T.P.A. appeared to increase the rates at which adults and young women attained high-school-equivalency diplomas, the program had no apparent effect on the educational attainment of young males.

The findings could increase pressure to reform the job-training system. The Clinton Administration's 1995 budget already proposes to cut year-round J.T.P.A. services for out-of-school youths by 10 percent, to $599 million. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1994.)

"These findings come at a critical time, as we seek to capitalize on what works in federal job-training programs and fix what doesn't,'' Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich said in releasing the $25-million study last month.

In particular, he noted, "the study results underscore the need to find better ways of serving low-income, disadvantaged youths during a crucial period of their lives.''

The Labor Department commissioned the National J.T.P.A. Study in 1986 to measure the costs and benefits of programs funded under the act's Title II, which serves low-income adults and young people.

Adult women make up 30 percent of Title II participants nationwide; adult men, 25 percent; and out-of-school youths, 23 percent. The study did not examine the J.T.P.A.'s effects on in-school youths, who constitute the remaining 22 percent of program participants.

It also did not assess a separate summer training program for poor youths that combines work experience with classroom academics.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

The study examined the earnings of more than 15,000 adults and out-of-school youths in 16 service-delivery areas during the first 2 years after they applied to the program. Applicants were randomly assigned to a treatment or a control group.

Adult females who participated in the J.T.P.A. boosted their salaries by an average of 15 percent, or $1,837, while adult males increased their incomes by 8 percent, or $1,599, in the 30-month period.

The earning gains exceeded the costs of job training. This is the first time a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the program has been conducted.

But the positive findings for adult participants were offset by the more sobering results for teenagers. The study's findings mirror two earlier evaluations, which found that federally financed employment-and-training programs had no effect, or a negative effect, on the earnings of out-of-school males.

In the current study, young male dropouts earned an average of $15,786 in the 30 months after completing job training, compared with $16,375 for the control group. Young female dropouts earned $10,241, compared with $10,106 for the control group.

"Unfortunately, there is little evidence available to suggest alternative program strategies that might work better, especially for youths,'' the report says.

The Labor Department should "undertake a systematic program of controlled experiments designed to test alternative ways to serve those groups that are not being adequately served by the program,'' says the report, prepared by Abt Associates of Cambridge, Mass., and the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation of New York City.

Mr. Reich said efforts are under way to develop such models. The department is also working to implement changes approved by Congress in 1992 to strengthen the job-training program.

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