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Job Training and Vocational Education

The federal government operates several dozen job training programs that are only loosely coordinated with one another. According to the General Accounting Office, a nonpartisan congressional research agency, in 1999 there were 40 federal programs that spent an estimated $11.7 billion on providing job training or job placement assistance as a key program goal. Most of these programs are located in three federal departments -- the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services. These programs primarily serve one or more of the following groups: welfare recipients, other poor adults and youth, and workers who have lost their jobs due to foreign trade.

The disjointed nature of federal job training policy stems in part from its history. The first major federal job training program, the Manpower Development and Training Act (MDTA), was enacted in 1962. It was followed by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which created the Job Corps, and the Work Incentive Program (WIN) in 1967, which provided training to welfare recipients. The first attempt to consolidate the array of already proliferating federal programs was the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), enacted in December, 1973. CETA transformed a number of population-specific job training programs into block grants, which were then given to the states. This marked the first step in a devolutionary process that saw increased responsibility for job training delegated to states and localities.

Congress enacted further legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, including the 1982 Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), which replaced CETA and further devolved responsibility to the states. Other notable laws included the 1984 Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, which continued federal support for vocational education provided through the Department of Education, the 1985 Food Security Act which established a training program for food stamp recipients, and the 1988 Family Support Act, an early attempt at reforming the federal welfare system that replaced WIN program with a new Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program targeting welfare recipients.

The most recent major piece of job training legislation enacted by Congress was the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which was enacted in 1998. WIA consolidated a number of Labor Department job training programs and created one-stop-centers in every state to help job seekers negotiate their way through the otherwise bewildering system of federal job training programs.

Overall, according to the General Accounting Office, federal job training policy today remains fragmented and inefficient. Independent studies seem to indicate that the benefits of these programs modestly outweigh the costs, but that they are not enough, by themselves to lift their target populations out of poverty and that their benefits probably fade after four to five years.

- Updated 6/1/01



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