Gold standard study results position the program for national expansion
A gold standard study has found Year Up to have perhaps the strongest evidence to date in connecting youth and young adults to the workforce, perhaps setting the stage for increased investment in the model around the country.
A randomized control trial of the workforce training program has established that it increased average earnings by 30-40% ($7,000-$8,000) per year with no sign of diminishing over time. There is a lot of frustration, rightfully so, that too often the search for evidence on what works with youth and families does not capture a diverse enough group; not the case here, where 85% of the 2,544 person sample was Black or Hispanic.
Straight Talk on Evidence, a site dedicated to distinguishing credible research findings from exaggerated claims, said the number of quality workforce development programs appears to be growing, although exaggerated claims remain “pervasive” in the field.
“Policy officials should expand these programs; if done effectively and on a large scale, they could move the needle on economic mobility and racial equity for millions of low-income Americans,” Straight Talk stated on its website. It recommended that federal, state and local governments integrate such evidence-based programs into their budgets because they have the potential to make a real impact on people’s lives and allow companies to benefit their bottom lines by bringing a fresh wave of talent aboard.
Expanding such programs, the researchers concluded, could move millions of disadvantaged young people permanently up the economic ladder.
Year Up targets 18- to 26-year-olds with a high school diploma or GED, from low or moderate income background, and focuses on connecting them with labor markets with high demand, primarily information technology and financial services. A participant has to attend the program five days a week for a year and is provided a stipend for participation.
Year Up costs about $28,000 per participant, but the taxpayer’s portion is about $12,000, the study reported, with the rest of the money coming from the employers who provide full-time paid internships to participants and pay Year Up a fee for each intern.
Lead researcher and author David Fein stated in a news release that less intensive and lower-cost programs may be worthwhile, but cautioned that research has demonstrated that cheap fixes don’t work.
Speaking of Year Up, he said, “On costs, we agree that $12,000 per participant is a reasonable ask of taxpayers for a program that can raise the remaining $16,000 of its costs from private companies and return $1.66 to society for every dollar spent overall.”
Solid results were expected in the final report on Year Up because interim findings released in 2018 were also good, but the extent of the impact demonstrated would make it shocking if there weren’t a greater nationwide investment in the program, particularly in the middle of the country.
Year Up boasts 26 locations on its website right now, and they are almost entirely on the coasts.
Blue Meridian Partners, the funding conglomerate known for making big bets in youth services, has already put $40 million behind scaling Year Up. Straight Talk’s report on the findings this week makes the argument that Year Up would be a perfect candidate for a concept it calls the Funding Match for Evidence Initiative. The idea is basically for programs like Year Up that have a huge green light on evidence to be eligible for enhanced matching off of block grants.
So for example: The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act sends money out to the states each year, part of it for job training targeting youth and young adults. Were a state to invest some of its dollars on Year Up, it would trigger an enhanced match of federal dollars in addition to what the state already gets.
A national embrace of Year Up carries obvious opportunities for child welfare and juvenile justice systems that work with young people every day who should be prime candidates for such a program. A relationship between caseworkers for youth in extended foster care and a local Year Up site, for example, makes a lot of sense.
But it is worth noting that Year Up is not a match for anyone in this age range who isn’t at a point where they are self-motivated to learn job skills and start a career. As Straight Talk commented in its analysis: “Year Up carefully screens applicants and enrolls those identified as being motivated to succeed and interested in career advancement; thus, the effects may not apply to young adults who fall outside these criteria.”