November 8, 2008

Obama’s ‘Service in College’ Program at Promises $40 an Hour

change-gov2.jpgTalk about “change.” The latest version of president-elect Barack Obama’s ever-evolving ideas for “community service” promises to pass out quite a bit of it to America’s college students.

The “America Serves” (link is to Google cache) and “Service” sections of Team Obama’s site have, uh, changed quite a bit over the past day or so after many, including Kerry Picket of Newsbusters, noted that the “service” proposals require youth conscription, i.e., a non-military draft.

As of 8 AM this morning, Team Obama’s cleanup operation is nearly complete, with almost all coercive language purged.

But one item noted last night by Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs remains in the “Service” (a copy for future reference is here if/when the existing link changes), with a stunning quantitative modification:


$4,000 in value for 100 hours is $40 an hour, tax-free. For most students, because they pay no federal income tax, this will amount to an annual handout of $4,000 less the value of the service they provide (bravely assuming that it’s productive), which would be at most the private-sector equivalent of about $12 an hour with benefits, or $1,200.

Space doesn’t permit me to go into all of the mind-boggling distortions this would lead to, but here’s a start (some information was obtained from the tables listed at this page at

  • Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the roughly 3.2 million high school seniors who graduate each year who aren’t cut out for college, or aren’t yet ready for what’s left of its rigors, will not go into private-sector jobs that might make sense for them, but will instead erroneously or prematurely choose higher education, partially because of this perk.
  • Administering the program will require a vast bureaucracy, including verifications that kids indeed attended eligible schools (full-time?), indeed did the service, didn’t drop out as soon as their service was completed, etc., etc. This bureaucracy will almost certainly impose paperwork requirements on colleges, as well as charitable and government organizations, that can ill afford it.
  • Roughly 60% of high-school grads go directly on to college. Let’s estimate that this puts 8 million kids in college at any one time (I think the number is higher, but I can’t prove it right now). If they are required to put in the service (that’s what the site still says), the program would cost Uncle Sam $32 billion a year (8 million x $4,000).
  • In the last fiscal year, the entire Department of Education spent $66 billion. This one program would expand the Department’s budget by almost 50%, before adding a dime for administration.
  • More practically, are there 800 million hours (8 million kids at 100 hours each) of meaningful community service work out there? Even if there is, how do you manage a program with the equivalent of almost 4 million 400,000 full-time employees efficiently and effectively? Wal-Mart, which is I believe the nation’s largest employer, has 2.1 million employees. (Ironic/never happen suggestion of the day: Maybe Uncle Sam should outsource program administration to Wal-mart. At least they might keep it under control).

If President Bush had proposed this, the howls would have been never-ending. As it is, I suspect there will be little if any media notice — of the cost, or the coercion.

I also copied the paragraph about College Serve-Study because its reference to “instead of jobs in dining halls and libraries” seems more than a little condescending — and all too typical. Apparently, “community service” bought for $40 an hour is more noble than doing jobs that serve actual customers.

To the extent there is any coverage, I expect fawning praise and a contention that Obama really won’t “require” it — despite the plain language and the web page’s current title:


“Voluntary” or “universal” — which is it, guys?

Cross-posted at