US economic crisis puts youth corps at risk
While Obama urges expanding conservation corps, cash-strapped states such as California mull cutbacks.
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Her group is also tapping into the public works zeitgeist, calling for the creation of a clean-energy service corps, a transportation corps, and a native American corps. A white paper by several influential groups puts the cost at $1.25 billion over five years to hire and train 125,000 young people to do energy efficiency retrofitting.Skip to next paragraph
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The recommendations seem to resonate with the new administration’s thinking. Mr. Obama’s transition website outlines plans to expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots to 250,000, a doubling of the Peace Corps, and the creation of an “energy-focused youth jobs program.”
Critics point out such programs have proven inefficient in the past. “This is the type of thing that is driven by trying to make work and having the appearance of people doing good things,” says James Bovard, who has written critical assessments of AmeriCorps. “The history of AmeriCorps shows that it just results in a lot of photo ops and not achieving very much.”
Neither was the General Accounting Office glowing in its assessments in the 1990s of the Department of Labor’s Job Corps program. It spent a lot on youth who didn’t stay long enough to complete training, and upon exit, often wound up working low-skilled jobs, the GAO found.
More recent data from Job Corps suggests that roughly half get a GED while enrolled, and three-quarters go on to jobs or higher education.
Other research points to successes. After participating, black males were one-third less likely to be arrested and 50 percent more likely to be employed, according to a 1997 study by Abt Associates, Inc.
In California, the governor’s representatives don’t dispute that the CCC does good work, including repairing back-country trails, working fire lines, and cleaning up after disasters. But they argue that the state can’t afford to spend $34 million on the program when it has a $42 billion deficit.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget would phase out the CCC over three years. Some new money would be put into local California corps instead, with greater emphasis on training. “The corps, when it first started, was a balance between training, education, and work experience. What it’s evolved into is work experience and not enough training and education,” says Sandy Cooney, spokesman for the state Natural Resources Agency.
CCC officials deny that: Every participant without a high school diploma must do schooling after work, and the program has connected youth to jobs with unions, fire agencies, and the state parks.
Mr. Cooney also notes the CCC spends about $40,000 of state funds per participant – enough, he says, to hire a fire crewman or a park ranger.
That cost, counters CCC’s O’Connor, includes room and board, and overhead costs. “We train kids to get jobs who we would have to support on welfare and in prisons. You can’t compare the two.”