Lousy economy? Lots of people out of work? Hey, let’s have a job training program. Not surprisingly, that is just what President Obama has proposed.   

As Inkwell readers may know, job training programs are one of my many pet peeves. In my very first journalism job, when I worked for a leftwing weekly (I’ve evolved) in New Orleans, one of the things that turned me towards conservatism was covering the Comprehensive Education Training Act, that boondoggle fondly known as CETA. CETA may not have helped people change their lives by finding work,  but it helped make me a conservative. Indeed, I may be one of the few people in the country really affected by the CETA program.

Well, imagine my nostalgia when the Wall Street Journal had an oped this morning on dear old CETA! It is pegged to President Obama’s call for new job training programs for the long-term unemployed. The article pointed out exactly what I saw: the program taught bad work habits! Actually, it taught bad stay-at-home and collect checks habits.

Before CETA was established, a government study warned that “teens in federal jobs programs ‘regressed in their conception of what should reasonably be required in return for wages paid.'” I’ll say: taking the city bus to various places where CETA training was supposedly in progress, I couldn’t help noticing that there was never anybody there. Where had all the trainees gone, long time passing?

When I did track down a trainee, I asked her if she didn’t feel it incumbent upon her to begin to look for a job in the private sector. This line of inquiry she obviously regarded as hostile. She indicated that she, in point of fact, preferred her CETA “work.”

CETA was so bad that even the federal government dropped it. But the dream did not die:

After CETA became a laughingstock, Congress replaced it in 1982 with the Job Training Partnership Act. JTPA spent lavishly-to expand an Indiana circus museum, teach Washington taxi drivers to smile, provide foreign junkets for state and local politicians, and bankroll business relocations. According to the Labor Department’s inspector general, young trainees were twice as likely to rely on food stamps after JTPA involvement than before since the “training” often included instructions on applying for an array of government benefits.

Well, this does sound like arduous work compared to what I saw on my journeys about New Orleans to locate CETA workers!

But it did not turn participants into successful members of the workforce:

For years the Labor Department scorned the mandate in the 1982 legislation to speedily and thoroughly evaluate whether the programs actually benefitted trainees. Finally, in 1993, it released a study that showed participation in JTPA “actually reduced the earnings of male out-of-school youths.” Young males enrolled in JTPA programs had 10% lower earnings than a control group that never participated.

President Obama wants our new “investments” in job training to go for programs similar to the troubled Georgia Work$ program:

Begun in 2003, Georgia Work$ gives people a chance to “train” at an employer for eight weeks. They receive no salary but continue collecting unemployment compensation and as well as a $240 weekly stipend from the state of Georgia. Last year, the stipend was increased to $600 a week and anyone who said they needed a job was allowed to participate. After costs exploded, Georgia Work$ was scaled back early this year.

Mark Butler, Georgia’s current labor commissioner, stated that the program suffered from a “lack of oversight” before he took over in January. At last report, only 14% of trainees were hired by employers-a success rate akin to other unemployed Georgians who do not participate in the program.

Do you want to sacrifice to pay taxes for programs like these?