President Trump campaigned to victory with a platform that included more jobs, better jobs, and a commitment to invest in America’s infrastructure.
The early details on his first budget do not suggest that the existing federal job programs – which are mostly aimed at youth and young adults – are a priority in that vision.
Trump’s 2018 budget proposal “decreases federal support for job training and employment service formula grants, shifting more responsibility for funding these services to States, localities, and employers.”
This is potentially bad news for two significant Department of Labor programs focused on youth and young adults:
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Youth Program: A $900 million program that distributes funds to state and local workforce investment boards to supply job-seekers between 14 and 24 with a one-stop shop for job leads, assistance and training.
The program is focused on youth who have left the mainstream school system, and there is a dedicated program within WIOA for youth returning home from incarceration. There are three basic types of services: core (informational), intensive (temporary supports and assessments), and training (job skills education).
YouthBuild: An $80 million-per-year program that funds community providers to deliver academic support and job training (particularly in the construction trade) to those between 16 and 24. When WIOA passed in 2014, YouthBuild was shifted from an independent program to one within the framework of WIOA.
The two programs find themselves under the microscope at an almost comically inconvenient time: in between news that questions their effectiveness, and forthcoming news that might support their success.
WIOA (actually, its close predecessor, WIA) and YouthBuild recently and separately received long-awaited gold-standard studies examining how their participants stack up against a control group. The main metrics: academic progress, employment, and wages and earnings.
Both evaluations were done by the firm MDRC, and the interim results of both evaluations were released after the election. In both cases, the news was murky.
The interim study focused on impact 15 months after the start of WIA services, and found that, in fact, WIA participants did not increase earnings or employment versus a control group. There was some indication that those accessing just intensive services fared better than the control group, but MDRC said it could not definitively say that.
The program reflected significant academic gains for participants after 30 months. Just about half had earned a high school diploma or GED, compared with 37 percent of the control group. Twenty-four percent had enrolled in some form of college, compared with 18 percent.
But the interim study found YouthBuild participants fared slightly worse than the control on delinquent behavior (many participants already have juvenile records). There were only minute differences between the groups when it came to employment experience, though the average weekly earning for YouthBuild participants was about $16 higher. Perhaps most surprisingly, just 10 percent of YouthBuild participants who were working said their jobs were in the construction business.
In both interim reports, MDRC issued the same caution: it would be foolish to judge WIOA or YouthBuild before the full evaluation, which would in both cases include long-term impacts. In the case of WIOA, the report asserts that a lag against the control group would be expected 15 months out, as most WIA training participants would either still be in training or just have finished. A wider time window could reveal that, over time, those training services led to better employment situations than the control group.
With YouthBuild, MDRC suggests that the interim results on academic progress suggest that down the road, the employment and earnings indicators will look better. From the MDRC findings:
“The next report will assess whether the increases in GED receipt and postsecondary enrollment are maintained 48 months after study enrollment. It is possible that these effects could increase in size, and that boosted postsecondary enrollment could translate into earning more degrees and improved job prospects.”
The full results could go a long way toward protecting the programs, or dooming them to cuts. Of course, this assumes that Congress uses the appropriations process to fund the government, something that it has failed to do for quite some time. Under a series of continuing resolutions, it’s hard to imagine major gutting of any programs.
But with leadership of both chambers and the White House it’s likely that, at some point soon, the Republicans will turn their gaze seriously to federal spending. And it did not surprise Youth Services Insider to see job training programs in peril in this budget, because it was hinted at in the first few weeks of this year.
The earliest budget plans that leaked out of the Trump administration projected spending $10.5 trillion less over a ten-year window, and apparently borrowed heavily from the playbook of The Heritage Foundation, the most visible conservative policy shop in Washington.
Heritage has no love for federal jobs programs. In its 2017 budget proposal, the foundation proposed outright elimination of WIOA and its programs, saying, “There is abundant evidence suggesting that federal job-training programs do not work.”
In an op-ed that appeared in The Hill, Heritage Research Fellow David Muhlhausen keyed on the interim findings of the evaluations to criticize WIOA:
“Large federal grants distributed for use at the discretion of state and local job-training agencies discourage accountability and efficiency. The actors spending the money are not responsible for raising it. As the late Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman observed, we never spend other people’s money as carefully as we spend our own money.”
It will be tough for the Republicans in Congress to take that stance. It took about a decade to update the federal programs, but once an agreement was reached it was near unanimous. WIOA passed the Senate 95-3, and the House 415-6. Among the yes votes on the House side: Speaker Paul Ryan and Mick Mulvaney, who is now director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
For Republicans, the optics of jumping ship on a law they almost universally voted for aren’t great, especially when the law’s stated purpose is to help people enter the workforce.
But those votes were cast without knowledge of the evaluations. Negative results, coupled with the position of the White House, could provide the cover Republicans need to bail on WIOA. So the final impact findings of those evaluations couldn’t be more important.
The Apprentice, 2.0
Trump’s budget does propose a new focal point for federal investment in job training, and it includes a word he’s already famously associated with: apprentice.
The budget proposes to help “states expand apprenticeship, an evidence-based approach to preparing workers for jobs.”
Apprenticeship programs work pretty much the same as they did in Medieval times: a person learns incrementally on the job, and earns a wage as he or she advances. This model has shown to be effective in Germany and Switzerland, and at home in South Carolina.
Trump would not be inventing a federal apprentice program; it already exists. The Department of Labor was appropriated $90 million in 2017 for ApprenticeshipUSA, through which it helps states develop registered apprenticeship options for people over the age of 16.
Half of the states have a designated state apprenticeship agency, and the other liaison informally with Labor through regional offices. In either case, the model relies on what’s called “program sponsors” to build the apprenticeship roster. These sponsors include employers who do all education and job training in-house; employers who outsource some of the education to other entities; partnerships between employers and unions; and intermediaries.
Here’s a tricky nexus between what the president proposes to cut and what he intends to augment. One of the changes brought about by WIOA was that workforce development boards could for the first time spend the federal funds to support registered apprenticeships. So in that sense, the federal government has already helped “states expand apprenticeship,” and cuts to WIOA funds would cut down on that help.
The National Skills Coalition, in its Skills for Good Jobs Agenda blueprint published just before the election, proposed a goal of five million apprenticeships in the United States by 2020. But the coalition has dug in firmly against cuts to WIOA.
“Ensuring America’s workers have the opportunity to get a job where they can prosper and grow requires investments in America’s skills, not cuts,” said CEO Andy Van Kleunen, in a statement on the group’s website. “Further cuts won’t make us more competitive – in fact they’ll make it harder than ever for businesses to fill critical positions. And they’ll make it harder for U.S workers – particularly those without a four-year college degree – to get good jobs.”
YouthBuild USA, the national nonprofit that represents the 260 or so local programs in 46 states, has already begun campaigning against workforce spending cuts, circulating an auto-letter form in support of YouthBuild to donors and others close to the program.