Thursday, December 18, 2014

Should city track workforce development funds better?

Last week, a report found that the city’s workforce development initiatives are costly for taxpayers and performing worse than nearby counties — not good news anywhere, much less in a town with 10.5 percent unemployment.

Should city track workforce development funds better?

Last week, a report found that the city’s workforce development initiatives are costly for taxpayers and performing worse than nearby counties — not good news anywhere, much less in a town with 10.5 percent unemployment.

If you haven’t seen the stats already: According to Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative, nearly a half-billion bucks has been thrown at the city’s workforce development programs, which serve people on welfare as well as those looking for work who aren’t on welfare. Of those receiving services who aren’t on welfare, only 59 percent found jobs, compared to 72 percent in other parts of Pennsylvania. Of those on welfare, 2 5 percent got jobs, compared to 31 percent elsewhere in the state. And only 12 percent of employers are signed up to use the programs. An average of 25 percent are registered in the rest of the state. 

This made us wonder: Is the government tracking this data? Is it making sure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely to deal with the serious problem of unemployment? Or was it just throwing money into workforce development programs until Pew came along?

The answer, said Pew project manager Thomas Ginsberg, is complicated.

Ginsberg said most of the funds for the city’s workforce development initiatives come from the state and feds, and each has its own system to measure success for job seekers. However, he said, there is “no uniform data collection” on how well the program is serving employers (which, of course, ends up affecting job seekers).

The data on how many employers are signed up for the programs — 12 percent — were not something the state had readily available. Rather, Pew had to ask the state to compile that data. A little disturbing, right?

Ginsberg said officials are “very well aware of this and frustrated themselves.” He said the city’s two workforce nonprofits are in the midst of reorganizing, and there are plans to publicly release score cards, which track the programs' progress, in the future.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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