June 27, 2014

Labor Secretary Perez: We’ve Trained ’14 Million People Each Year’ Since the Recession Ended

Math is hard over at the Department of Labor these days, pretty much from top to bottom. Last Friday, the DOL listed what it says were the 31 states which showed “statistically significant” job growth in the 12 months ended in May. It turns out that six other states should have been on that list, dropping Ohio, which was the slowest-growing among those originally listed, from number 31 to 37.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, and apparently the rest of the country, has a really big problem. He claims that his department has trained 84 million workers during the past six years, yet millions and millions of Americans are somehow still unemployed. The opening portions of a speech Perez made on July 19 at the National Fund for Workforce Solutions Annual Meeting follow the jump (HT to a frequent emailer; bolds are mine throughout this post):

[as prepared for delivery]

Thank you for allowing me to join you today. …

As we’ve worked to pull out ourselves out of the Great Recession, the nation’s workforce system and its partners have played, and continue to play, a crucial role in the recovery. The National Fund is a critical partner in our efforts to put people back to work, and on behalf of the entire Administration, I want to express gratitude for the work you do.

Your renewed focus on skills and credentials and on engaging employers as partners aligns neatly with our job-driven initiative, and we’re so pleased to have allies like you on the ground in so many communities.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Fred Dedrick — your expertise in addressing workforce challenges at the local, regional and state level in Pennsylvania has clearly been an invaluable asset in your work at the National Fund.

And to the funders — both the national funders and those working at the local and regional level — a heartfelt thank you for your commitment to and investment in workforce strategies that work. Your investments have never been more important than they are right now.

Because, quite frankly, the economic devastation that plunged our nation into the worst recession in generations called for an all-hands response. The government, the private sector, higher education, philanthropy, service providers — we’ve all had to rise to the challenge, and we’ve all had a hand in this recovery.

Since the start of the Great Recession, an average of more than 14 million people each year have turned to our job training and employment services for assistance. In the last year alone, we served more than 2 million people just through WIA programs. And we’re doing it all with fewer resources — while the need for services has grown exponentially during the recession and since, funding has been reduced by more than 13 percent. That’s why your partnership is so critical.

“Our” clearly means “the Labor Department’s.”

Thus, according to Perez, from Decewmber 2007, the official but incorrectly determined start of the recession (the real evidence indicates that it started in June 2008) to the end of 2013, 84 million people — 14 million people per year for six years) have used the Labor Department’s “job training and employment services for assistance.”

Uh, no they haven’t, Tom, as the following graph from mid-2012 seen at the Wall Street Journal shows:


I only see about 19 million in the years 2008 through 2010, and that probably double-counts quite a few people who would have particiapated in training for muliple years. There is no way a current graph would show 84 million separate people served by the end of 2013, even if the graph above somehow doesn’t include “some state and local programs that use federal funding to train workers.” 84 million would be well over half of all people employed in the U.S. If these programs were effective, almost no one would need training right now, and we would have achieved full employment years ago.

Even with the numbers presented, the obvious question is why so many “retrained” people are still failing to obtain employment. The Wall Street Journal item partially explains the problem:

government efforts to determine the effectiveness of the programs have been spotty, at best. It doesn’t keep track of how many people receive federally funded training. [*] Some training programs don’t bother to monitor whether the unemployed workers who complete them succeed in landing jobs related to their training. For programs that do track job placement, the data are far from conclusive.

What’s more, the government has a mixed track record in predicting what jobs will be in demand. Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University labor professor who studies job training, says federal agencies dole out cash to training programs “on a very haphazard basis” and don’t always ensure that people are training for areas where there are job openings—or ones that pay well.

The Workforce Investment Act, the largest federal program for unemployed people, offers everything from résumé preparation to in-depth retraining for “dislocated workers” such as Mr. Safner. In the year ended June 2011, 78% of the 110,776 who went through the dislocated-worker training program said they wound up with jobs within three months, according to Labor Department surveys. Only about 38% told the Labor Department they landed the kind of jobs for which they were trained, although a department spokesman said the success rate is closer to 50% when people who didn’t respond to the survey are factored out. The government makes no effort after three months to monitor whether trainees are working in their fields of training.

[*] — This sentence alone demonstrates that Tom Perez has absolutely no basis for his 14 million-per-year claim. If it doesn’t keep track of how many people receive training, how can he possibly know?

These are the kinds of errors the press would be all over if a Republican or conservative were in the White House. But in the Obama administration, this stuff just blows by everyone, and no one seems to care. I sort of think we should care that we have a Labor Secretary who isn’t astute enough to recognize a garbage statistic almost any literate person should be able to recognize as such.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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