By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
Many who participate in Louisiana’s workforce development programs earn less afterward than they did before, according to recent analysis from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
LLA Mike Waguespack issued a performance report on the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s administration of several programs through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the outcomes for participants.
The report, which reviews fiscal years 2018 through 2022, comes in response to House Resolution 184 of the 2022 legislative session to provide information on service delivery and administration, spending, participant success, and potential improvements.
The commission administers several Title I and Title III programs primarily through 60 One-Stop Centers throughout the state, including 15 comprehensive One-Stop Centers. The career services provided through the centers varies based on locally in-demand professions, provider availability and customer choice.
Auditors found the commission has not ensured all local workforce development boards have memorandums of understanding in place to provide access to all required partner programs as of June 2023, and suggested more oversight and guidance to improve integration of the programs.
“During fiscal years 2018 through 2022, Louisiana spent $274.6 million on WIOA Title I and Title III programs, spending $54.9 million on average per year,” auditors wrote.
In fiscal year 2022, 81.8% of Title I funding was spent at the local level with a cost per participant ranging from $3,109 to $12,008, while the percent of local spending was 61.4% for Title III programs, ranging from $78 to $1,132 per participant.
The state met its performance targets for all years, and while in 2022 Louisiana participants gained credentials at a higher rate than other states, fewer actually obtained jobs.
“While the majority of participants who exited Title I and III programs in fiscal years 2019 and 2021 obtained employment after exit, their earnings were often lower than two to three quarters before program participation,” auditors wrote.
A breakdown of the programs shows that a program targeted to low-income adults resulted in 56.4% boosting their earnings, compared to 16.8% with lower earnings, and 26.8% who remained unemployed after exit in 2021.
A program for dislocated workers for the same year produced higher earnings for 43.5%, compared to 28.9% who earned less and 27.6% that remained unemployed. A Wagner-Peyser program for all jobseekers in 2021 showed a similar dynamic, with 35.1% earning more, 23.6% earning less, and 41.3% that remained unemployed.
Overall in 2021, 35.4% earned more than before participation, while 23.6% earned less, and 41% remained unemployed.
“Most WIOA participants did not have earnings after exit that were high enough to be self-sufficient,” auditors wrote. “The majority of Title I participants did not obtain jobs related to the training they received in WIOA. However, those who received training had better outcomes than those who did not, especially if they completing training and/or obtained jobs related to their training.”
Auditors suggested consistent branding and a more centralized online presence could help boost participation in the programs, which enrolled only a small percentage of those eligible, while in-depth data analysis “could better evaluate the effectiveness and compliance of each program and the factors contributing to participant success.”
Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Cates responded to the findings in a letter to Waguespack on Aug. 31 that explained how a federal decrease in funding to administer the program, and complications from COVID, played into the issues.
The commission has worked to ensure local offices have memorandums of agreement, but Cates argued additional data analysis to measure performance is not possible “without additional state funding to do so.”
“Louisiana currently has the lowest unemployment rate and the highest number of employed individuals on record for the state,” Cates wrote. “As there is always room for improvement, LWC will make every effort to incorporate the Legislative Auditors recommendations into the WIOA framework.”