Does Job Corps Work? An Update
Job Corps is the nation’s largest vocationally focused education and training program for disadvantaged youth. It serves youth between the ages of 16 and 24, primarily in a residential setting. The program’s goal is to help youth become more responsible, employable, and productive citizens. Each year, it serves more than 60,000 new participants at a cost of about $1.5 billion, which is more than 60 percent of all funds spent by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on youth training and employment services. To examine the programs' effectiveness, DOL sponsored the National Job Corps Study in 1993.
The study was the first nationally representative experimental evaluation of a federal employment and training program for disadvantaged youth. From late 1994 to early 1996, nearly 81,000 eligible applicants nationwide were randomly assigned to either a program group, who were allowed to enroll in Job Corps, or to a control group, whose 6,000 members were not. Study findings were based on the comparisons of the outcomes of program and control group members using survey data collected during the four years after random assignment, and administrative earnings data from the Social Security Administration and state Unemployment Insurance Agencies covering the nine years after random assignment.
The study found that Job Corps improved outcomes for disadvantaged youth. Job Corps provided broad groups of participants—most of whom enrolled in the program without a high school credential—with the instructional equivalent of one additional year in school and had large effects on the receipt of credentials it emphasized most: GED and vocational certificates. These impacts must be viewed in terms of the counterfactual for the evaluation: active participation of the control group in education and training programs. The program also significantly reduced arrest and conviction rates and time spent incarcerated. Most importantly, 12 percent earnings gains were observed during the last two years of the survey period.
Based on the administrative records data, however, the earnings impacts for the full sample did not persist after the four-year period covered by the survey. Consequently, program benefits appeared to be small compared to the program’s cost of $16,500 per participant. Nonetheless, the statistically significant short-term earnings gains experienced by participants made Job Corps the only large-scale education and training program shown to increase the earnings of disadvantaged youth. Furthermore, the benefits of Job Corps appeared to offset costs for the oldest youth. In addition, benefits exceeded costs for the participants themselves, suggesting that Job Corps effectively redistributed resources toward low-income youth.
The positive initial postprogram earnings gains and the earnings gains that appears to persist for older youth suggest the Job Corps model holds promise. The challenge is to improve program services to sustain the earnings gains for younger participants and make the program cost-effective for a population that has been extremely hard to serve. In particular, Job Corps needs to address differences by age in program structure and student program readiness and improve job placement services, which were found to be limited in scope and substance at the time of the study.
"Does Job Corps Work? Impact Findings from the National Job Corps Study." American Economic Review (December 2008)