Doing A Job On The Job Corps

Senator Nancy L. Kassebaum (R-Kan.), a low-keyed moderate, doesn't usually make waves. Yet the new chairman of the Labor & Human Resources Committee is going after a cherished icon of the Democrats' Great Society: the Job Corps.

Kassebaum plans Jan. 18 hearings on the program, which provides job training and placement for poor, disadvantaged youths. But she has already made up her mind on one thing: The $1.1 billion budget for the Corps has to be slashed. Kassebaum bases her conclusion on years of Labor Dept. studies. They demonstrate that it costs $23,000 to train one Corps member, yet only 12% of 60,000 annual enrollees are placed in the craft and vocational jobs they were trained for. Kassebaum insists that Congress should not "perpetuate a program that isn't serving anyone."

Predictably, Democrats are appalled. They contend that the Job Corps has an enviable record, considering that it focuses on youths with bleak job prospects. In testimony to Congress last October, Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich called the program "one of the jewels in the crown of our workforce investment system." His proof? A 12-year-old Mathematica Policy Research Inc. study claiming that 70% of participants go on to a job or more schooling. The study also estimated that the Corps returned $1.46 for every $1 invested because graduates paid more taxes and were less dependent on welfare and food stamps than peers who didn't join.

The Clinton Administration--which boosted Corps funding 14% for 1994 and 1995--had plans to expand the program from 113 to 163 centers. Now, the White House must focus on minimizing its losses. Kassebaum alleges that violence in Corps camps is up, living conditions are poor, and drop-out rates are high. "It's a very different program from what it was when it started," she says.

Kassebaum prefers to cut funding and reduce violence by screening out applicants with criminal records and imposing a tough code of conduct. If that fails, she'll push to kill the program. That's disheartening liberals, who reckon that if mainstreamer Kassebaum can target the Job Corps with such a vengeance, their hopes of preserving many social programs may be slight, indeed.

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