Obama's job-training program model in Georgia "nearly bankrupt"

Last night, Barack Obama urged Congress to “pass this jobs bill” quickly more than a dozen times in his speech to the joint session of Congress, because America couldn’t wait for the legislators to debate the merits of his proposal.  Perhaps we can’t afford not to debate them, as Reuters pointed out shortly after the speech.  One central program in Obama’s proposal will be built on the model used by Georgia for worker retraining, a program Obama heralded as a success:

We have to do more to help the long-term unemployed in their search for work.  This jobs plan builds on a program in Georgia that several Republican leaders have highlighted, where people who collect unemployment insurance participate in temporary work as a way to build their skills while they look for a permanent job.

Perhaps the White House should have actually talked with the people running the Georgia Work$ program.  Reuters’ Matthew Bigg made the effort — and discovered that even in Georgia, the program is seen as a flop.  And for good reason:

A jobs program in the Southern state of Georgia, cited in President Barack Obama’s plan to fight unemployment, needs big fixes and would not work as a federal initiative, says the official who runs it. …

Georgia Work$ is being restructured to overcome significant flaws. Even within the state, it is seen as “not a marquee program,” said state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, the Republican elected official who oversees it.

More than 30,000 people benefited from the program in the past, but in its current form, Georgia Work$ is tiny. Only 12 unemployed people signed up in August and 92 have done so since February, according to state Department of Labor statistics.

It’s not as if Georgia doesn’t have unemployed workers, either.  Their unemployment rate runs above the national average (10.1%), and those workers mainly come from industries where retraining would appear to be a good idea — construction, manufacturing, and finance.  Despite the large number of workers who should benefit from Georgia Work$, the fact that only 92 people applied for entry in 2011 gives a pretty solid indication that, at best, this is not a program ready to be federalized.

Even when it was in full force, the success rate of the program was poor:

Between March 2003 and July 2011, employers accepted some 32,000 participants into training.

Of those, some 24 percent who completed training were hired, officials said, although they acknowledged the program’s statistics needed to be improved. There are no figures on long-term job retention and state administrative costs have not been tallied.

Bear in mind that the program covered one of the best periods of employment in this nation’s history.  Even then, only a quarter of  pretrained program participants could land a job with the firms that trained them for free, when jobs were plentiful.  In an environment where jobs are nonexistent, not only will such a program waste the time of the applicants, firms won’t bother spending resources on training people for jobs that they don’t plan to open.

If this is the best Obama can do in the 30 months he had between Porkulus and Porkulus II, it’s a great argument for the 2012 election … for Republicans.