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The CEA Training Report: Very Wide of the Mark

  ·   By Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, LaFarge SJ Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown and former NSC board member Harry J Holzer
The CEA Training Report: Very Wide of the Mark

By: Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, LaFarge SJ Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown and former NSC board member Harry J Holzer

Georgetown University, August, 13 2019-- The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) has issued a report that claims to assess the available evidence on government employment and training programs, and to offer policy implications based on this assessment.[1]

But the document is highly flawed. It clearly misrepresents basic facts about federal job training programs in the US, and it misinterprets research evidence; it appears more driven by ideological and political agendas rather than what is best for US workers. In short, it is very wide of the mark as an evaluation of federal training in the US.

For instance, on the fundamental question of how much the US spends on workforce development: Figure 2 of the CEA report implies that federal spending on workforce development has been rising over time. But it does so without adjusting for inflation – an astounding feature in a report written by economists. In the text, it acknowledges “real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) spending in 2018 is nearly unchanged from the 2014 levels;” but it fails to note dramatic declines in such funding over the past four decades (by almost two-thirds), while the US labor force has roughly grown in size by half.[2] It quietly acknowledges that the nearly $19B of federal funding for such programs, constituting less than one-tenth of one percent of US GDP, is a paltry sum in comparison to spending in most European Union countries on “active labor market policy” (which often falls in the range of .5 to 1 percent of GDP, above the numbers it cites), while not acknowledging how low such spending is for an American economy with 160 million workers.[3]

When reviewing evaluation evidence, the report cites a range of studies using widely respected methodologies that show more or less positive results for programs funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and its earlier incarnations, with many (including mine) showing positive impacts.[4] Yet the CEA concludes that “Government job training programs (with the exception of apprenticeships) appear to be largely ineffective” (p. 23), in a leap of logic that clearly runs counter to the much more mixed evidence the report provides.

When discussing the most important recent study with negative findings on training – by Fortson et al. in 2017 – the CEA report fails to highlight the evidence that intensive workforce services have positive impacts on worker earnings (of 7-20 percent, depending on the source). These results strongly imply that such services are cost-effective – while federal funding for them remains extremely modest.[5]

And, when discussing the lack of positive training impacts in the Fortson study, the CEA report omits important caveats highlighted in the study itself – like the fact that relatively few workers in the “treatment” group actually received training while many in the “control” group received it with funding from other sources – that render the lack of estimated training impacts very hard to interpret and “inconclusive,” as indicated by the authors. The CEA also ignores other well-known and rigorous studies showing impressive training impacts for adult or dislocated workers.[6]

But the most egregious aspect of the CEA report is that it completely fails to acknowledge a growing evaluation literature on highly effective “sector-based” or “career pathway” programs that show large and lasting impacts on disadvantaged worker earnings. These mostly local (though now spreading) programs – like Per Scholas, Project QUEST, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, the Jewish Vocational Services-Boston, and Year Up – have generated large, statistically significant earnings impacts in several randomized controlled evaluation studies.[7] It’s worth noting that these programs all make substantial investments in the skills of their participants, and work closely with employers to ensure those skills are relevant in the labor market. These results offer a strong counterpoint to the somewhat disappointing results for training in the WIOA study. Though they are not explicitly “government” programs, they have received financial support from a range of state and federal (as well as private) sources.[8]    

Given the very clear successes of these programs, a sensible policy discussion would focus on how to replicate and scale the best sector-based efforts at community colleges or other training providers with available or new federal and state funding. Instead, the CEA completely ignores this strong body of evidence on programs that work, while presenting misleading facts on federal job training funding over time and a skewed portrait of evidence on its impacts. Furthermore, the CEA report makes no evidence-informed recommendations for future policy directions in workforce development.

This report should not be taken seriously as the basis for any discussion of federal funding for workforce policy in the future.



[1] Government Employment and Training Programs: Assessing the Evidence on their Performance. The Council of Economic Advisers, Executive Office of the President, June 2019.

[2]CETA Training Programs – Do They Work for Adults? Congressional Budget Office, 1982.

[3] Such policies include training, job placement assistance, and subsidized work experience. See Chad Brown and Caroline Freund. Active Labor Market Policies: Lessons for the US. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2019.

[4] Frederik Andersson et al. “Does Federally-Funded Job Training Work? Nonexperimental Estimates of WIA Training Impacts Using Longitudinal Data on Workers and Firms.” NBER Working Paper, 2013; and Carolyn Heinrich et al. “New Estimates of Public Employment and Training Program Net Impacts: A Nonexperimental Evaluation of the Workforce Investment Act Program.” IZA Discussion Paper, 2009. Across studies, the estimates of training impacts on earnings per quarter are in the range of $320–$887 per quarter for participants, which indicates fairly strong agreement given the varying study samples and methodologies Estimated effects of training on the probability of employment are also positive and statistically significant across a majority of studies. These estimates of employment increases range from about 5 to 29 percentage points (measured monthly or quarterly), with some differences observed between women and men, and by specific training type and time following program entry. 

[5] See Kenneth Fortson et al. Providing Public Workforce Services to Job Seekers: 30-Month Impacts Findings on the WIA Adults and Dislocated Worker Programs. Mathematica Policy Research, 2017. As the CEA notes, “Wagner-Peyser” funding for such services at over 3000 job centers across the US is under $.7B now and has changed little in recent years despite their clear cost-effectiveness. Providing intensive services increased earnings over the follow-up period by $3,300 to $7,100 (7 to 20 percent) per customer depending on the data source. The benefit-cost analyses demonstrate that providing intensive services is cost-effective from the perspectives of customers, taxpayers, and society as a whole (Fortson et al., 2017).

[6] For instance, see Louis Jacobson et al. “The Impact of Community College Retraining on Older Workers: Can We Teach Old Dogs New Tricks? Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 2005.

[7] See Anne Roder and Mark Elliott, Nine-Year Gains: Quest’s Ongoing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation, 2018; David Fein and Jill Hamadyck, Bridging the Opportunity Divide for Low-Income Youth: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Year-Up Program, US Department of HHS, 2018; and Sheila Maguire et al. Tuning Into Local Labor Markets, PPV, 2010. To take one example, The Year Up experimental evaluation found that young adults in the treatment group saw a 53% increase in initial earnings, which remained strong over time, with 40% earnings gains two years out.

[8] Public funding sources for these programs have included WIOA (and its predecessor), federal Social Innovation Funds, and state funding for community colleges.

Posted In: Work Based Learning, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training

Applications for Supportive Services Academy now open

  ·   By Michael Richardson,
Applications for Supportive Services Academy now open

National Skills Coalition is launching a Supportive Services Academy to assist state teams in advancing state policies that expand access to supportive services so that people with lower incomes can complete education and training programs. Applications for participation are currently being accepted and are due November 1, 2019.

The cost of participating in skills training goes beyond tuition or costs of a training course and includes non-tuition costs like transportation, childcare, books and supplies, equipment, etc. For too many people with low incomes – particularly people balancing the costs of training with family expenses —those costs present huge obstacles to accessing and completing a postsecondary training program.

Federal human services programs – e.g., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) – can provide these critical supportive services. However, they are often underutilized by states or not used in alignment with postsecondary and workforce training efforts.

NSC’s Supportive Services Academy will focus on helping state teams advance policies that expand access to education and training supportive services in the following areas:

  • State policy agendas for increasing access to childcare for people participating in education, training, and/or work-based learning.
  • Career pathways programs that include career navigation and supports for childcare and transportation, financed with state higher education funding, TANF and/or SNAP E&T funding.
  • State-established support funds to provide supportive services such as coaching, service coordination, childcare, transportation, and other assistance to people with low incomes as they prepare for and succeed in work-based learning.
  • Policies that expand access to SNAP for students participating in postsecondary education.
  • Establishment and/or expansion of skills-focused SNAP E&T and/or TANF programs.
  • Any other policy area that helps students and workers to address the non-tuition costs of training so that they can secure in-demand skills and postsecondary credentials. Academy teams have the flexibility to develop and promote specific policy proposals that expand access to supportive services and work in the unique context of their individual state.


Supportive Services Academy teams will be required to apply a racial equity lens to their work advancing policies in these areas. Supportive services can advance racial equity by providing more resources to workers and students of color who, due to systemic racism, usually have greater financial needs.

Priority in team selection will be given to SkillSPAN partners. The Academy will officially launch in December 2019 and run until December 2020. To apply and learn more, please download the full application here.

Posted In: Sector Partnerships
Twelve community and technical college systems band together to call on Congress to adopt a job-driven Community College Compact for today’s students

Today, education leaders from twelve community and technical college systems across the country—including those in Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington—sent letters to federal policymakers, urging them to make higher education policy more responsive to the needs of today’s students.

The letters, which were sent to Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee leadership, call for the adoption of a job-driven Community College Compact; a set of postsecondary policy proposals developed by National Skills Coalition (NSC) and vetted by a range of stakeholders, including academic institutions, employers, community-based organizations and workforce development boards. If adopted by Congress, these policies would increase access to high-quality education and training programs, crucial support services and transparent information regarding postsecondary programs for students of all ages and backgrounds. Likely 2020 voters and business leaders also strongly support the Compact policies, as demonstrated by recent polling conducted by ALG Research on behalf of NSC.

Community and technical college leaders are voicing their shared support for the Community College Compact in light of the impending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA, which is the most comprehensive federal law governing postsecondary institutions and programs, has been eligible for reauthorization by Congress since 2008. Senate HELP Committee Chairman, Lamar Alexander, and Ranking Member, Patty Murray, as well as House Education and Labor Committee Chairman, Bobby Scott, and Ranking Member, Virginia Foxx, have expressed interest in reauthorizing this sweeping legislation before the end of this Congress. Additionally, the White House has named the modernization of the Higher Education Act as one of its top priorities.

The letters urge federal policymakers to consider the following policy changes:

Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid

In today’s economy, approximately 80 percent of all jobs require some form of education or training, and more than 50 percent of jobs can be classified as “middle-skill”—meaning they call for more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. As a result, community and technical colleges are working to increase access to high quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials. However, most federal financial aid available today is reserved for students who are enrolled in programs of study that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks—an outdated policy that fails to account for the training needs of individuals in our 21st century economy.

Therefore, community and technical college leaders are urging lawmakers to consider legislation—such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839; H.R. 3497 ) led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Richmond (D-LA-02), Levin (D-MI-09), Horsford (D-NV-04), Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Herrera-Beutler (R-WA-03) and Katko (R-NY-24)—that would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality education and training programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks.

Make higher education and workforce outcomes data comprehensive and transparent

Since higher education is becoming more closely linked with finding success in the labor market, data about the outcomes of postsecondary programs should be available to students, parents, employers and policymakers. However, as community and technical college leaders note in their letters, existing legal restrictions on the collection of student-level data continue to hinder the accessibility of this important information.

To help provide consumers with better data and relieve institutions of duplicative reporting requirements, community and technical college administrators called for action on the College Transparency Act (S.800; H.R. 1766). Introduced by Senators Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI-10), Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Stefanik (R-NY-21) and Harder (D-CA-10), this bipartisan bill aims to establish a secure, privacy-protected postsecondary student level data network administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), to which colleges would be able to safely and easily report their data. The data would then be available as a decision-making tool for current and prospective students—making it easier for individuals to improve their lives through education and training.

Ensure the success of today’s college students by strengthening support services

Due to the diversity of the student populations they serve, community and technical college leaders recognize the growing importance of support services such as career counseling, childcare and transportation assistance. While states and higher education administrators across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide nontraditional students with the services they need to succeed in the postsecondary education system, their efforts receive little support at the federal level.

To address this issue, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117)—legislation introduced by Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO). This bipartisan bill would make federal funding available on a competitive basis to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers to postsecondary access and completion.

Provide targeted funding for valuable partnerships between community colleges and businesses

Community and technical college leaders work with industry stakeholders every day to provide high-quality training and academic instruction to future workers through sector partnerships. However, Congress has not invested in these partnerships at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in FY 2014. The purpose of the TAAACT grant program, which allocated $2 billion in funding to states from FY 2011-2014, was to increase the capacity of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce through job training for adults and other nontraditional students.

Due to the proven impact of community college-business partnerships, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of legislation that would expand and support these collaboratives, an example of which is the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act (S. 1612; H.R. 2920). Introduced by Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Smith (D-MN), Feinstein (D-CA), Durbin (D-IL), Shaheen (D-NH), Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Kelly (D-IL-02), this legislation aims to provide academic institutions and businesses with competitive grant funding so that they can continue to work together to deliver valuable educational or career training programs to students and workers.

Read the letter to the Senate HELP Committee and House Education and Labor Committee, as well as letters of support from Arkansas and Washington.

Posted In: Transportation, Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Sector Partnerships, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington
Maryland legislation improves state’s knowledge of employment outcomes

Wage data is an important tool for helping state policymakers understand whether postsecondary education and training programs are helping people find careers with family-sustaining wages. However, the most commonly used state wage data does not include this information about every state resident. To remedy this, Maryland recently enacted HB 1206, which allows the Maryland Longitudinal Data Center System (MLDS) to receive aggregate wage information about students from the state’s Comptroller. This law makes Maryland one of the first states able to access tax data to determine student employment outcomes.

State agencies get wage information by utilizing the records collected through the administration of the unemployment insurance program, called unemployment insurance wage records. Most employers within a state are required to submit wage records for each employee to the state, so that the state can determine what unemployment benefits an individual is entitled to if they were to lose their job. These records are maintained in secure databases, and when connected with data about participants in workforce training and education programs, can show whether participants are finding jobs, and how much they are earning after completion. However, state unemployment insurance wage records do not contain information about all employees. The federal government, military, and self-employed do not participate in the unemployment insurance program, so there are no unemployment insurance wage records about these individuals. Residents working for employers in other states also have no in-state records. This can lead to significant gaps in available wage information in a state like Maryland, where many residents work for the federal government or military, or work in nearby Washington, D.C. or Virginia.

To find the employment outcomes of more residents and produce information to improve the state’s education and training system, Maryland recently enacted HB 1206. This allows MLDS, which securely matches data from Maryland’s K-12, postsecondary, and workforce systems, over time, to collect aggregate wage information from the state’s tax records. Aggregate data, which groups information about a number of students, allows MLDS to better understand student outcomes without jeopardizing an individual’s privacy.

Maryland was inspired to create this legislation after reading the Workforce Data Quality Campaign's (WDQC) case study, "How Montana is Using Data to Drive Policy." This report detailed how Montana measures the outcomes for college graduates using tax records maintained by the Montana Department of Revenue. Maryland utilized Montana’s method of providing student data to the tax agency, and receiving summary information in return. This method ensures that privacy laws surrounding tax records are respected.

The passage of HB 1206 makes Maryland and Montana the only two states that are able to have wage information about former students who are state residents – no matter where they are working. WDQC encourages more states to utilize their state’s tax information, or participate in cross-state wage data exchanges, such as SWIS, to ensure that they can understand the outcomes of all students and drive policies to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested in successful programs that grow the economy.

Posted In: Workforce Data Quality Campaign
National Skills Coalition hosts state network-building events in Oklahoma and Louisiana

As part of its ongoing efforts to build the capacity of state partners in their network, National Skills Coalition hosted and cohosted convenings in Oklahoma and Louisiana this month through the Work-Based Learning Academy and the Louisiana Skills Policy Academy.

In Oklahoma – one of five states in NSC’s Work-Based Learning Academy – team members spearheaded the state’s first-ever Work-Based Learning Summit in Oklahoma City on June 17. Co-hosted by NSC, Oklahoma Works, the Oklahoma City Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and Oklahoma Human Resources State Council, the summit was attended by 200 stakeholders from throughout the state representing business, educators, community-based organizations, and more. A series of ‘lunch and learns’ throughout different areas of the state earlier in the year preceded this culminating event. Attendees were able to learn from peers in Oklahoma who are leading the way in work-based learning as well as other Work-Based Learning Academy team members and coaches from across the country who were featured on panels. For more information, please see the agenda. Sessions focused on the benefits of work-based learning, how industry partnerships play a pivotal role in implementing and scaling programs, and how to diversify the talent pipeline and the industries these programs are found in.

After the Summit, the Work-Based Learning Academy gathered for an afternoon and morning of meetings to mark a year of progress in the Academy. The Academy was launched in June 2018 with teams from five states: Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Washington. At the year mark, team members gathered to share successes and challenges from the past year and to brainstorm how to move forward most effectively to continue to achieve policy goals. A forthcoming publication will highlight the many team wins – from passing legislation to increasing awareness and more – as well as provide lessons learned that other state partners should find useful in their own work to advance work-based learning polices.

In Louisiana, the Louisiana Skills Policy Academy held a State Skills Policy Convening on June 7 in New Orleans. This day-long meeting consisted of a mix of presentations and discussions on state-level skills policy issues in Louisiana that drew on the expertise of NSC’s Louisiana partners, the Louisiana Budget Project, and peer learning with longstanding NSC partners from the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative and the Moore Community House Women in Construction Program. The Louisiana Skills Policy Academy is an 18-month initiative aimed at educating job training organizations and other key stakeholders throughout Louisiana on key federal and state workforce development policies and advocacy strategies.

Posted In: Louisiana, Oklahoma