Spring 2019 - 59910 - PA 680PB - Policy Research Project | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

Spring 2019 - 59910 - PA 680PB - Policy Research Project

Training Out Of Poverty

This project seeks to improve short and medium-term training programs to enable people to transition from school or unemployment to work, and from poverty to middle class lives. Austin is a contradiction with its wealth and poverty, with its frequency of high-tech and creative employees, along with its rate of those who leave schools without high school degrees. Kiplinger news ranks Austin the #1 City for the Next Decade. Forbes Magazine calls Austin the number “1 Place to Be” because the City of Austin (COA) is among the nation’s top economies and fastest growing metropolitan areas. Simultaneously, Austin experiences rapidly growing poverty, as estimated by the Brookings Institute as having the second fastest growing suburban poverty in the United States.

One way to address poverty is through training the poor for employment, so persons who complete training can earn middle class salaries. Since Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” there have been many community-based efforts to prevent or ameliorate poverty through education, pre-professional training, apprenticeship, and mentoring. Literally billions of dollars are spent in any year on “training” programs in the U.S., but who knows which of those programs are successful, or why programs fail to deliver on expected outcomes?

To evaluate existing training programs it is useful to develop methods to estimate a community’s “return on investment” (ROI) for training persons for gainful employment. Persons who move from poverty to middle class incomes will no longer need subsidies for which their families now qualify: housing, health and human services, as well as water and energy utilities. Persons who avoid prison because they are gainfully employed will not impose costs on a criminal justice or prison system, another source of savings. Employed citizens pay property taxes, a source of income to a community.

Student participants in this project will seek to identify and articulate best practices in training so as to enable people to move from poverty to a middle-class life. This effort will include local focus groups to assess changes in quality of life of persons who had been unemployed and have been recently trained and employed. This project will evaluate employment training programs in Austin for subsidies avoided and income generated from the transition from unemployment through training to employment.

Students also will examine large-scale employment training experiments around the United States (US) to develop, valid ate and apply qualitative and quantitative methodologies to estimate both current costs avoided and new marginal revenues associated with training programs. These methods will help document program ROI to justify employment training investments. This challenge is not only to compute short-term benefits; ROI methods ought to identify and document costs avoided and revenues generated from multigenerational consequences related to employment training and options for permanent employment.

This analysis will be developed in cooperation with the City of Austin (COA) Health and Human Services Department and other COA units that provide assistance to help families. Students will compute potential benefits and prevented costs. At least four factors can be estimated:


  • Wages and taxes generated by employment of persons whom otherwise could have remained in poverty;
  • Dollars saved by the government, as in monetized cost avoided, resulting from persons removed from poverty and subsidies and who no longer are incarcerated;
  • The number of (and probability of) persons removed from poverty;
  • The number of (and probability of) persons achieving permanent employment.

Project participants will assess in a rigorous manner Austin’s existing training programs. Participants will develop plans for data collection strategies that can be built into training programs to improve future evaluation outcomes. Participants will consider how to design training programs so that program evaluation will indicate multigenerational ROI.

Students in the course also will investigate training programs throughout Texas, the U.S., and in other nations to identify “best practices” in enabling the poor to become middle class, so as to help children and youth move from school or unemployment to high paying jobs.

These ideas will be developed to help the COA decide how to provide incentives for employers to recruit, train, and mentor persons to transition from poor families to high-valued employment.

T 2:00PM to 5:00PM
SRH 3.316/3.350