President Lyndon Johnson outlined his Great Society program in 1964. It was incorrectly reported in yesterday's edition that he outlined the program in 1974. CAPTION: (NEW-LINE)Illustration, no caption; Picture, President Lyndon Johnson outlines his Great Society program in a speech in November 1974 at his old college, Southwest Texas State, in San Marcos, Tex.
Over the past 19 years, the United States has spent $85.8 billion on programs to train the poor and "hardcore" unemployed and fit them into today's job market.
By almost all accounts, that effort has been a bust.
For all the outpouring of federal, state and local money over the years, there are few experts, even among those who support the current round of programs, who claim they have been effective - other than to provide income for the recipients.
Moreover, despite the massive investment - $15 billion in the current fiscal year alone - experts still don't know such basics as which kind of programs work best, what impact they have over the long run and what changes, if any, to make for the future.
"The jury still is out on the ability of these programs to improve the tradeoff between inflation and unemployment," concedes Isabel V. Sawhill, director of the National Commission for Manpower Policy, an independent federal agency now evaluating the entire effort.
The dilemma is a crucial one, not only because of the cost but because the problem of "structural unemployment" - the social and economic illness these programs are designed to relieve-is so devastating to society and seemingly intractable.
Although the total number of jobs in the U.S. has grown sharply in recent years, the number of hard-core jobless has muhsroomed since the mid-1960s - from 380,000 just 15 years ago to more than 2.4 million today. And it shows no signs of abating.
The consequences of failure are enough to provoke shudders: Large numbers of persons unable to get and hold decent jobs; sharply increased costs for welfare and income maintenance; and, in the case of youth unemployment, the possibilty of wide-spread disorder.
During most of the past 20 years, manpower programs have enjoyed bipartisan support. Democrats liked them because they aided the urban disadvantaged. Republicians embraced them as a respectable alternative to welfare. There seemed little real question that the effort should go ahead.
But with all the recent problems - and so little knowledge of what works best in this field - both sides have begun backing away.
The Carter administration effectively has shelved a long-promised move to expand these programs as a means of combatting hard-core unemployment and pushing the jobless rate back to the 4 percent level earlier though of as "full employment."
Carter's plan when he took office was to use traditional Democratic pump-priming and more liberal money and credit policies to slash unemployment - then almost 8 percent of the work force - to about 5.75 percent. Then he would rely on manpower programs to do the rest.
Now that the jobless rate is down to 5.7 percent, however, Carter is supporting only a few new youth and training programs. Rather than the sharp expansion that had been expected, the administration is keeping its proposals - and its expections - modest.
Charles L. Schultze, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, told a House subcommittee earlier this year, "Our ability to predict how much improvement in structural unemployment will be forthcoming from these measures is limited.
"At the present time," Schultze declared "we cannot be sure that continuing or even rapidly expanding these programs would make possible an overall 4 percent unemployment rate without accelerating inflation."
Simiarly, the administration has come across with only a token fulfillment of its 1977 promise for a major attack against youth unemployment. Although more action could emerge from a study being run by Vice President Walter Mondale, so far Carter has proposed only limited - and mainly experimental - new programs.
To most manpower specialists, the major problem over the past 20 years is that the programs have provided jobs, but little training. But, training is considered the key, because the difficulty is not in finding jobs but in providing people with enought skills to get and hold good jobs. (Except during recessions, some jobs usually are available - even to the unskilled.)
Arnold H. Packer, the Labor Department's chief economist, says the difficulty for these workers is that the jobs they do get pay so poorly and have so little future that they offer little attraction. Those workers who take them also leave them quickly.
Structural unemployment describes cases where workers are too poorly trained - or located in the wrong place - to get and hold jobs that make use of their potential. While the category includes a high proportion of teenagers, blacks and women, it also reaches many other segments of the work force, both urban and rural.
Manpower experts argue persuasively that with adequate training, these unskilled "in-and-out" workers would be able to complete for better jobs.And, armed with new skills, they could relieve some of the labor bottlenecks that make the U.S. economy so inflation-prone.
But that's not what has happened. Instead, the bulk of the money spent on manpower programs has been little more than an income-maintenance effort. Training has been noticeably absent, or often poorly run. And there's been too little coordination with the needs of industry.
The United States has tried just about everything over the years, from the Job Corps and Neighborhood Youth Corps of the Kennedy and Johnson days to the present massive - and controversial - Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1974.
The effort has spawned a set of heady promises: The programs were to uplift the hard-core unemployed, provide them with counseling and help toward a high school equivalency certificate, train them for skilled or semi-skilled jobs and shift them from welfare to decent jobs.
But the potpourri of government and private efforts over the years has produced little to show, either in terms of reducing the level o f structural employment or improving the tradeoff between joblessness and inflation.
Manpower specialists are almost unanimous in listing these problems:
The government has tried to use manpower programs to accomplish too many goals at once - straining the system, as in Carter's most recent effort.
Local manpower efforts have been disrupted by too-frequent shifts in federal policy as Congress, impatient to achieve quick successes, has scrapped or replaced existing programs before officials have had a chance to determine whether they're working.
Although the programs have been well-enough designed in some localities, in general they've had too little link to the nation's economic needs. Too often, local programs have turned out secretaries in areas where opticians were needed instead.
In too many cases, both federal and local officials have played the game of "creaming" - taking applicants they know will be easy to place in jobs - so they can guarantee high job-placement statistics for federal administrators. In doing so, however, they end up ignoring some who need help the most.
Incredibly, the government has failed to keep meaningful statistics on the effectiveness of these programs - making the past 15 years' effort almost worthless in terms of learning what works. The Labor Department began a comprehensive study only in 1977, but it won't yield solid results for years.
Manpower experts in the field also are sharply critical of the Labor Department's administration of these programs over the past several years. They say the agency has been lax in riding herd on local programs and more concerned with "numbers" than with how the programs actually are working.
Ironically, the manpower effort began not as a program to aid the hard-core unemployed, as it's come to be thought of now, but as a bid by the federal government to help "save" middle-class workers who were being threatened by the late-1950s specter of growing automotion in industry.
The first broad-scale, post-war program was the 1962 Manpower Development and Training Act, administered by the Labor Department's Office fo Manpower, Automotion and Training. The theory was that because growing new technology would eliminate thousands of jobs, workers would need retraining.
The scope was broadened during the Great Society days of the mid-1860s, when the Johnson administration included manpower training programs in its new anti-poverty program. The basic theme became help for unskilled workers, but the program remained relatively small.
Perhaps the biggest change - and the most destructive to the training concept - came under Carter, who used the program as an anti-recession tool in 1977. Localities were forced to expand their programs so rapidly that the effort blew apart. The jobs slots were filled, but training was sidetracked.
"The conversion of these programs from structural to countercyclical cut into their ability to deals with structural problems," says the Manpower Policy Commission's Sawhill. "And having to grow that rapidly gave way to a lot of the current fraud and abuse."