Abt Study Finds … Youth Corps Job Training Does Better by Black Males

Dick Bradee
November 1, 1996

Traditional youth service and conservation corps are dramatically improving the lives of African American young men. They work more. Earn more and are arrested less often after serving in the corps, a new study shows.

The glowing report card has emerged from a long-term, $1 million Abt Associates Inc. evaluation — reviewed by the Brandeis University Center for Human Resources — that was ordered during the Bush Administration. The findings contrast sharply with insignificant-to-dismal results reported in similar studies of disadvantaged young people in other job training programs.

Good agency grades, however, were not always rewarded with more money, particularly if an agency relied on a single source of funds — federal, state or local. Even the Commission on National and Community Service that had helped fund corps programs was killed and replaced by AmeriCorps before the study it had ordered was completed. New York City cut off all funds for the largest local program Abt studied.

Hence, corps programs able to ring up more fees for services by their young workers were the most consistently successful financially.

JoAnn Jastrzab, who led the Abt research, has studied education and employment programs for more than 20 years and has reviewed other large scale studies of youth work programs. She said that she has found no program works better among African American young men, with the possible exception of the much more expensive federal Job Corps.

Positive Cost Benefits

Even African American corps dropouts found and held better paying jobs than African Americans with no corps experience, she said. Women and Hispanics in the corps also fared better. But young white corpsmen ended up earning less. Only 14 percent of corps members studied were Caucasians and the good showing among minorities boosted the overall results. On average, the corps increased employment by 26 percent, hours worked by 40 percent and raised wages $83 a month.

“The significant impacts for young black men may be because they don’t have many options open to them," Jastrzab said.

Most young white men told researchers that they would be working, going to school or starting families if they weren't in the corps, she said. While many young black men said they'd be dead or in gangs.

All other things being equal, young black men in the survey control group earned $468 a month; young white men.,$1,238. Service in the corps raised the $468 to $708 for blacks and reduced the $1,238 for whites to $876, indicating that whites could find better paying jobs without the corps.

The researchers were so impressed, Jastrzab said, "that some of our people talked about quitting Abt and going to work for the corps." The dark side of the weeks spent with the young workers was the conclusion that employer discrimination against young people. young black men in particular, is growing and that all disadvantaged people get less help at a time when they're trapped in neighborhoods with high risks, little access to low-skill jobs and few choices.

In addition to the first rigorous random sample survey of corps members, Abt did a conservative cost-benefit analysis that gave large established corps programs a net plus rating. Costs per corps member were $9,425, benefits were $10,030 or $605 more, and society gained $1.04 in benefits beyond costs for each hour of service.

Corps Earnings Up

Why do corps pro-grams work? Abt and Brandeis suggested four main reasons: they're comprehensive, combining work, education and supportive services; they're intensive, five days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; they have a committed staff and they establish a social network of teams, supervisors, role models and community institutions.

"I would add a fifth reason— immersion in the world of work. They do not sit around in a room or a lab. They learn how to work," said Kathleen Selz, executive director the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, an advocacy group for about 120 youth service and conservation corps with about 22,000 participants.

"It is a recipe that works," Selz said. The recipe has won financial support from federal, state and local governments and private sources and more than $40 million in earned income to cover total-1995 budgets of about $193 million costs. Selz said, "we are thrilled that the overall percentage of the corps' support from federal sources has increased only 2 percent. We've had a consistent growth in fee for service income from non-federal sources— that's earned income, the best kind of money."

Enter AmeriCorps

Some corps that relied on federal job training money have gone out of business and AmeriCorps grants do not necessarily go to youth service and conservation corps programs, she explained.

The Abt report was ordered by the Commission on National and Community Service created by a 1990 Bush Administration law which also targeted federal funds for corps pro-grams serving out-of-school young adults aged 18 to 25 — chiefly high school dropouts from low income households.

It took nine months to set up the study, select representative programs and sort out the more than 600 young people, 383 in the corps and 243 in a control group, who were tracked for 15 months in 1993 and 1994, Abt received about $5 million for a series of "what works" studies, including about $1 mil-lion for the youth corps study, according
to Abt estimates.

While research was underway, federal law changed. Funds were no longer targeted to youth corps when President Clinton's AmeriCorps — a Corporation for National and
Community Service unit — succeeded Bush's Commission. The Abt report finally landed on the desk of AmeriCorps project officer for national evaluation. C. Lance Potter this fall.

The report showed that youth corps are sustainable and valuable enough to continue to receive taxpayer support, Potter said. He added that "the corps continue to receive substantial funding from AmeriCorps." And that there were benefits to communities and young corps members that can't be measured in dollars.

Alan Mdchior of the Brandeis Center reviewed the report and said that Abt's very conservative cost benefit standards underestimated the impact of work done but still showed that youth corps are among the few programs that can both break even financially and help young people grow on a personal level. A follow up study of the same young people could show whether the gains are lasting, he said.

Corps Downs ft Ups

"If I was going to invest my money, rd target kids who need a leg up and arc badly neglected," Melchlor said.

To measure costs, benefits and the impact on participants, Abt selected City Volunteer Corps of New York City, Washington State Service Corps, the Greater Miami Service Corps and a district in the California Conservation Corps. In addition, Abt looked at the community impact of four corps that teenaged foster care children. Washington Gov. Dan Evans promoted national service in his keynote address to the 1988 Republican convention. he noted, and it's had strong support in the state ever since. "It's remarkable what service can do for the self-esteem and self worth of young people," Basi added. That's a major part of what this is all about," were, at the time, newer and smaller: YouthBuild, Boston; Civic Works, Baltimore; the New Jersey Youth Corps of Camden County; and the Wisconsin Service Corps of Milwaukee.

The eight programs provided more than one million hours of service and were typical of 100 year-round corps programs that received federal funds in 1993 and 1994.

Abt's high marks for City Volunteer Corps followed favorable reports by the controller of the City of New York and Public/Private Ventures. But, instead, they proved to be three strikes and out. Mayor Rudolph Guiliani's administration ended a decade of city support and zeroed its budget. Toni Schmiegelow, the director, said her corps now has only 120 AmeriCorps volunteers who work in elementary schools, hospitals and conservation projects; there had been about 400 primarily disadvantaged young people in the city-funded corps.

Miami's corps is "alive and kicking" because it has a "strong base of local support." said Barbara Gordan, Former director who recently became deputy chief of the Dade County Department of Human Services. The business community in Miami sees a dollar value in the corps and is committed to its mission of teaching young people account-ability and a work ethic, she said.

The California Conservation Corps, a state agency with a $60 million budget, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Susan Levitsky, the agency's public information officer, said: "We know it works. People who were in the corps 10 years ago said it was the best experience of their lives. There's strong anecdotal evidence that, if you spend just three to six months in the corps, there'll be an impact on the rest of your life."

California's corps enjoys bipartisan support; 78 percent of state residents surveyed believe the corps is a good use of state funds, she said.

The fourth major study site, Washington Service Corps, was the first state corps to concentrate on human services when it was set up in 1983. Bill Basl, director from 1983 to 1994 when he became state director of national ser-vice in 1994, said the state corps won a $3.5 million AmeriCorps grant and is using volunteers to work with about 100 teenaged foster care children.

Washington Gov. Dan Evans promoted national service in his keynote address to the 1988 Republican convention, he noted, and it’s had strong support in the state ever since.

“It’s remarkable what service can do for self-esteem and self worth of young people,” Basl added. “That’s a major part of what this is all about.”


Evaluation of Conservation and Youth Service Corps

Contact: JoAnn Jastrzab, Senior


Abt Associates Inc.

55 Wheeler Street

Cambridge, MA 02138-1168

(617) 349-2372

National Association of Service and Conservation Corps

Contact: Kathleen Selz, Executive Director

666 Eleventh Street, NW, Suite 1000

Washington, DC 20001-4572

(202) 737-6272

AmeriCorps Corporation for National Service

Contact: C. Lance Potter

1201 New York Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20525

(202) 606-5000 ext. 448


Abt Study Finds … Youth Corps Job Training Does Better by Black Males: Post-Corps Average Monthly Earnings

Bradee, Dick. "Abt Study Finds … Youth Corps Job Training Does Better by Black Males."Youth Today, November/December 1996, p. 12-13.

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