New Meme: It’s so hard to cut spending.

A Sunday talk show host expressed concern that Republicans want to cut a job training program. “Do you really want to cut job training during a recession?” he asked, brow furrowed.

Did you ever hear of anybody who got a job because of a federally-sponsored job training program? I thought not.

Like job training programs, the Head Start program is expensive and can be cut with no discernable ill effects on humankind. Why? It doesn’t work.

Mona Charen noted in a column this morning:

[Head Start] would have been worth the $166 billion taxpayers have spent on the program since 1965 if a significant portion of Head Start alumni did improve their educational outcomes and escape poverty. But that did not happen.

As any number of studies have demonstrated over the years, the effects of Head Start are modest to nugatory. Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom chronicled the failure in No Excuses. One study found that Head Start students were slightly more likely to be immunized than others – a good thing of course, but a) not primarily what the program was sold as, and b) achievable far more cheaply through other programs like Medicaid. A 1969 study found that any gains participants displayed faded away in the early grades. By third grade, Head Start graduates were indistinguishable from their non-participating classmates. Rather than scrap the program, President Nixon (a sheep in wolf’s clothing where domestic policy was concerned) concluded that “Head Start must begin earlier in life, and last longer, to achieve lasting benefits.”

Later surveys showed similarly dismal results. By 1987, even the program’s founder, Yale psychologist Edward F. Zigler, declined to claim educational benefits for the program. But as the Thernstroms concluded, “Everyone could agree that poverty was hard on blameless children, so any federal effort purporting to help them was difficult to attack without seeming mean-spirited.” …

According to Douglas Besharov of the University of Maryland, it costs $22,600 annually to keep a child in a year-round Head Start program. Typical preschools run about $9,500. But the price simply doesn’t matter. The lack of results doesn’t matter. The only thing that seems to matter is that liberals be able to preen about their compassion – oh yes, and condemn anyone not impervious to evidence as heartless.

Head Start does little or nothing for minority kids. The real clients of Head Start are not poor black kids but the rich liberals who will spend our money so that they can feel compassionate.

The sooner we realize this, the quicker we can cut federal spending.