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



  1. [...] by unknown « – News & Features – Emails a window on listeria outbreak Real [...]

    Pingback by » BizzyBlog » Obama’s ‘Service in College’ Program at … » Life Hotline — November 8, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  2. [...] that he suddenly decided to slap a number on the program, too. Read Tom Blumer for a back-of-the-envelope analysis of what the program would cost and what kind of bureaucracy, [...]

    Pingback by Hot Air » Blog Archive » Obama: On second thought, let’s make community service for students voluntary — November 8, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  3. Nuance…

    Obama: On second thought, let’s make community service for students voluntary
    Interesting that he suddenly decided to slap a number on the program, too. Read Tom Blumer
    for a back-of-the-envelope analysis of what it could cost and what……

    Trackback by On the Right — November 8, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

  4. It’s slightly worse than you estimate. Census data from this site summarizes enrollment data, including the percent of 18-24 year-olds enrolled in college. The average for the 8 years up to 2006 is about 10 million enrollment.

    That puts the price tag at 40 billion for 1 trillion billion (corrected by BizzyBlog) hours of community service. I wonder whether community organizers would get involved or become obsolete with the cornucopia of public service.

    It should do wonders for industries that depend on summer workers. In 12-13 weeks of work, a full time college student might work 500 hours. At $8/hr that works out to $4000. I wonder which option most students will go for? Don’t forget the increased payroll taxes they’d have to pay on the income they earned for the summer job!

    Comment by Greg Miller — November 8, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

  5. What bet community service must be “earned” in organisations like ACORN or other fronts to help Obama get reelected. It’s the Alinsky way.

    Comment by saint — November 8, 2008 @ 2:40 pm

  6. P.S. I suggest you also start digging around the propose Obama militia er I mean ‘civilian defense force’ or whatever that horror is called.

    Comment by saint — November 8, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

  7. [...] that he suddenly decided to slap a number on the program, too. Read Tom Blumer for a back-of-the-envelope analysis of what it could cost and what kind of bureaucracy, [...]

    Pingback by Students, R U Ready 2 Serve The Obama Sentence? « Mcnorman’s Weblog — November 8, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

  8. Are you sure about 4 million full time employees? 800 million hours divided by 2000 hours per year for a full time employee is 400,000 employee. A lot, still, but not twice what WalMart have.

    Comment by Mike Granby — November 8, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  9. #8, thx so much for communicating the catch. Fixed at both places. Doesn’t affect teh cost of $32 bil, which another commenter (don’t remember where) said should be $40 bil based on 10 million student.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 8, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

  10. [...] can read more about it at BizzyBlog. This is not a new news, it is been on for a long time, but now it has made it to [...]

    Pingback by Public service for students — how it worked under Communism « What’s Arugula — November 8, 2008 @ 10:56 pm

  11. [...] clipped from [...]

    Pingback by Obama’s CHANGE.GOV Site Has, uh, Changed Quite A Bit « Evynn’s Weblog — November 9, 2008 @ 1:15 am

  12. [...] the whole thing up, I found a couple of blogs that had the original plan.  View them here and here.  Also, be sure to read the second post’s analysis about the practicality of the plan.  [...]

    Pingback by The Frugal Libertarian » Enslavement in the Name of Service — November 9, 2008 @ 4:43 am

  13. [...] From BizzyBlog – Obama’s ‘Service in College’ Program at Promises $40 an Hour [...]

    Pingback by Weekend Coverage of Obama’s “required” service programs | Surviving Socialism — November 9, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

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