NEW WORKFORCE PROGRAMS ASLEEP ON THE JOB

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It’s a hard job, and apparently nobody wants to do it. Federal lawmakers have overhauled the business of putting people to work in the last few years, but the results, so far, are somewhat underwhelming.

For one, New York City is lagging far behind in its efforts to implement the federal Workforce Investment Act. This law, which took effect July 1, was designed to usher in a brave new world of job training and employment development. Replacing an old and disorganized system, WIA is supposed to offer efficient one-stop help for anyone looking for work-from 45-year- old high school dropouts to laid-off dot-com entrepreneurs.

New York City, though, is dawdling. The July 1 deadline has come and gone, and the city still hasn’t set up its legally mandated advisory board, or figured out how it will spend its federal allotment of $126 million in workforce training money. So late last month, the State Department of Labor sent a letter warning New York City that it better get its act together-fast.

“The city is in big trouble,” said Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit that has closely tracked the process. “They have a long way to go: They have to review their plan, come up with a voucher system, and set up a system for screening providers. Given their past history, we don’t have a lot of faith that all of a sudden it’ll work out.”

Emsellem and other critics also worry that in the rush, crucial decisions about job development and training in the city will get made by welfare-obsessed city bureaucrats, rather than the business, labor and educational groups that could make the new system work.

The city has been given an extension to September 30 to get an advisory board and plan in place, said Margaret Moree, Director of the state Division of Workforce Development and Training: “Everyone’s concerned [about the delays], but we have an increased level of confidence” that the city will meet its new deadline.

A new report from Mathematica Policy Research paints a depressing picture of the other side of workforce reform: the 3-year-old, $3 billion federal effort to help longtime welfare recipients get off the dole and into jobs.

As of last December, the federal government had spent $2.6 billion of that cash, but results have been less than thrilling. The study finds that welfare-to-work programs nationwide have fallen far short of their hopes, and are now talking gingerly about setting “more realistic goals” and “more conservative targets.”

So far, these programs manage to enroll an average of 19 people each month–far fewer than they’d hoped. Only about a quarter of all the people who were supposed to be in regular jobs by now have actually found them, and on average, they’re getting paid only $6.81 per hour. And many of those positions don’t seem much better than what unskilled people could have found on their own: Most have wound up in unstable, low-paid jobs like janitor, home aide, kitchen worker or stock clerk.

The report is now available on the web at aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/wtw-2nd-survey00/index.htm.