Friday, February 20, 2015

Active labor market program flavor of the month

The Atlantic, who should really know better, profiles a program called Platform to Employment. The subtitle of the article says that it is "successful" but in fact the article does not even attempt to provide plausible evidence of causal effects on labor market outcomes, presumably because there is no such evidence, even though some states are now providing the program at, in Connecticut, about $7,000 per participant.

What the article does provide is the information that there is an 80 percent placement rate. That sounds good, especially if you miss the one mention of the fact that the program serves "a selected group" of the long-term unemployed. Presumably, they are selected for employer appeal, which makes the placement rate even more meaningless as a measure of program success than it otherwise would be.

In addition to the lack of any causal evidence on the program's effectiveness, the Atlantic writer also seems woefully ignorant of the policy environment in which the program operates. The services provided by the program are not that different from what the Workforce Investment Act (WIA, soon to have the exciting new acronym WIOA) provides to someone who receives "intensive" job search assistance followed by subsidized on-the-job training. (OJT). WIA's caseworkers perform the same sort of selection when recommending clients to employers for subsidized OJT as PtE's caseworkers do. More broadly, the community college system offers vocational training for free (yes, already, someone please tell our beloved leader) via Pell Grants and/or WIA to those with low incomes and at a highly subsidized price to those without low incomes.

Some of these difficulties appear to arise because the author relies solely on the program itself, program participants, and advocacy organizations as sources. The Atlantic can, and should, do better.

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