JOB CORPS is a federal program that provides food, shelter, work clothes, health care, and job training to teenagers and young adults at 115 campuses across the United States. Begun during the War on Poverty in the 1960s, and meant to offer alternatives to young disadvantaged Americans who might otherwise turn to crime, its fortunes have risen and fallen in the decades since its founding. At the end of the twentieth century, the program cost approximately $1.2 billion annually, had enrollment of about 70,000 (70 percent of them minorities), and had served more than 1.9 million.
The Job Corps was created as a major arm of the antipoverty program through the Economic Opportunity Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law on 20 August 1964. The new agency was built on lessons learned from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Farm Security Administration of the 1930s, Ford Foundation experiments in community development, urban renewal programs, and welfare reforms of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. It was also influenced by scholarly studies suggesting the complex interrelationships of such variables as economic growth, mental health, racial and ethnic biases, illiteracy, local power structures, and family lifestyles. Under the leadership of Sargent Shriver, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Job Corps was dedicated not to creating and finding jobs for the unemployed, but rather to the more ambitious goals of human reclamation and social mobility.
The Job Corps provides general and vocational education, technical training, and useful work experience at residential centers for young people from poverty backgrounds ages sixteen through twenty-one years to prepare them for responsible citizenship and productive employment. The program was founded on the assumption that such young people must be removed from their home environments before effective reclamation might be accomplished.
The administration of the Job Corps during the Johnson years was continuously challenged by such problems as a high dropout rate, misbehavior at the centers, managerial disputes, community hostility toward nearby centers, difficulty in finding suitable locations for centers, high administrative financial costs, and sharp congressional and other political opposition. The administration of President Richard M. Nixon closed many Job Corps centers and curtailed the program's budgets; what remained of the agency was transferred to the Manpower Administration in the Department of Labor. Emphasis was shifted from residential centers to centers within commuting distance of the enrollees' homes. Also, technical training largely replaced general remedial education.
Although the Job Corps was more thoroughly studied and evaluated than any other antipoverty agency, its long-range impact remains an open question. In the 1990s, Job Corps faced a number of challenges, threats, and criticism: Critics charged that the program was wasteful because it was spending $26,000 per student, and fewer than 15 percent of participants were completing the program. A 1995 bill sought to turn control over to the states and to close numerous programs, but Congress voted that the federal government should retain control and that fewer centers should be closed. Attempts to boost the program's reputation back fired, however, when a study to demonstrate the Job Corps' effectiveness as an anticrime measure turned out to have used a highly controversial methodology. The study, which Labor Secretary Robert Reich commissioned from Mathematica Policy Research, intentionally denied admission to one in every twelve eligible applicants in order to use them as a control group. It then paid them $10 each for follow-up interviews to study their subsequent fate; the study's architects worked from the assumption that they would find a higher rate of criminal behavior in the control group because participants had been denied the opportunities Job Corps offered. The study cost $17.9 million and took nine years. In September 1998, the 6,000 control subjects filed a class-action lawsuit against the Labor Department. A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Labor Department should have subjected the study's methodology to public review, and halted the study. The Labor Department reached a preliminary settlement with the plaintiffs, under which it pledged to locate those in the control group and invite those who are still eligible to enroll in Job Corps. Fifteen of the plaintiffs received $1,000 for providing information to the court, but none received any money in damages.
President Bill Clinton gave something of a boost to Job Corps during his administration, but his successor, President George W. Bush, showed little intention of continuing such support. The future of Job Corps is likely to continue to rise and fall, depending on the presidential administration and the composition of Congress.
McCarron, Kevin M. "Job Corps, AmeriCorps, and Peace Corps: An Overview." Occupational Outlook Quarterly 44, 3 (Fall 2000): 18–25.
Price, John. "Job Corps Lottery." Mother Jones 24, 1 (January 1999): 21.