Leaving Some Key Facts Behind

New Report on "No Worker Left Behind" still leaves questions

Governor Granholm and certain quarters of the state media have been very excited by a recent report from the Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth extolling the success of the No Worker Left Behind Program, but the report leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It is far from clear that NWLB has had any positive effect on the state’s economy, or even done much to help its participants. Until the economic fundamentals of the state are addressed, retraining programs are probably an exercise in futility.

NWLB provides free community college tuition for “dislocated workers” — persons who are unemployed, underemployed, or who need to upgrade their skills in order to retain existing jobs. DELEG claims that 72% of participants who have completed their retraining have either found a new job or retained their old one. It sounds impressive at first, but there’s a lot we don’t know. In particular, we don’t have any basis for comparison; there’s no “control group” of workers who, for whatever reason, did not take part in NWLB. Nor do we know how many NWLB participants had jobs prior to starting training. (It’s almost always easier to keep an existing job than find a new one.) It’s at least possible that a similar group of workers who declined NWLB would have had a similar success rate, either because they devoted more time to their job search, or because they found training on their own, or because their existing job wasn’t as precarious as they thought.

Without that comparison, it is impossible to tell if No Worker Left Behind is doing anyone much good. The Granholm administration may sing its own praises, the rest of us should withhold judgment.