"Fresh Start" or "False Hope"?

First Published: 1999-06-15

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor

Those persons invited to participate in the Ministry of Youth's Fresh Start program might like to read what follows. Not everything that sounds good is in fact "good" or useful to either the community or the actual participants.

The Ministry of Youth has inaugurated a "Fresh Start" program, the intent of which is to find jobs and provide training for 100 individuals in the private sector. Government (taxpayers) pays $100, employer to pay $75 of a weekly salary of $175.

The question that needs to be asked before such programs are introduced is "Are government-sponsored training programs working?" Part of the answer can be found in the extensive study of U.S. government-training programs done by Fazil Mihlar and Danielle Smith of The Fraser Institute of Canada. A brief summing up follows:

"The United States began a massive investment in government-sponsored training programs decades ago and, after 30 years, billions of dollars have been spent on thousands of local job training programs. A growing body of experimental research overwhelmingly suggests that "active" labour-market training programs do not improve the prospects in the workplace for workers with low skill levels and little education. This analysis primarily considers so-called "welfare-to-work" programs targeting disadvantaged workers and three primary categories of program recipients: poor single parents, disadvantaged adults, and out-of-school disadvantaged youth."

"A lack of basic education figured prominently in the profile of the participants as 41.3 per cent to 65.4 percent of participants had less than 12 years of education. Programs designed to target single parents failed to achieve the goals set out by program administrators. Programs often have no effects and, even when outcomes are statistically significant the impact is not substantive enough to improve the welfare of recipients. In summary, these programs have virtually no effect in improving the prospects for most participants."

An analysis of an "out-of-school youth" program concluded that…" the(se) training programs have been a failure." It also notes that… "long run solutions must address the central reason why government-sponsored programs do not work. Programs focusing upon human capital fail because there is little – if anything – that can be done to compensate for neglecting the first twelve years of schooling. It is difficult to improve the employment opportunities for those with low levels of education and skills. Thus, the long-run solution is to ensure that students acquire the appropriate level of skills and education early in life. Such a policy approach is critical to the success of individuals in the workplace."

The conclusion of the study in the U.S. is that resources spent on these kinds of programs are wasted. Would we expect it to be any different in the Bahamas? The exam averages for 1998 BGCSE-s school leaving examinations were basic subjects – English 43%, Mathematics 43%, Science 35%. These marks are the low point in a downward trend over the past four years. Based on the evidence from U.S. programs "Fresh Start" is probably a waste of taxpayer money.

Without some factual information as to the "success" for the companies and individuals involved, the proposed "Fresh Start" project in Bahamas must be viewed as politically advantageous but socially and economically dubious at best.

The limited resources of The Public Treasury (and they are limited even though legislators seem to view them otherwise) would be better applied to raising the educational standards in the public schools from kindergarten through high school thus improving the job potential for young people.

Government should forget "Fresh Start" and focus its resources on "Early Start".

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