Do Youth Employment Programs Work? Evidence from the New Deal

Anna Aizer, Shari Eli, Adriana Lleras-Muney, Keyoung Lee

NBER Working Paper No. 27103
Issued in June 2020, Revised in July 2020
NBER Program(s):Children, Labor Studies, Public Economics

We study the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) – the first and largest youth training program in the U.S. in operation between 1933 and 1942 – to provide the first comprehensive assessment of the short- and long-term effects of means-tested youth employment programs. We use digitized enrollee records from the CCC program in Colorado and New Mexico and matched these records to the 1940 Census, WWII enlistment records, Social Security Administration records, and death certificates. We find that enrollees who spent more time in CCC training grew taller, lived longer lives and had higher lifetime earnings as a result of their participation in the program. We also find modest increases in the educational attainment of the participants and increases in short term geographic mobility. In contrast, we find no evidence that their labor force participation or wages increased in the short run. To assess the internal and external validity of the results, we compare our estimates to those derived from a randomized evaluation of Job Corps, the modern version of the CCC, conducted in the 1990s. The RCT’s results show that our empirical strategy delivers estimates that are in line with the experimental estimates. Overall, we find significant long-term benefits in both longevity and earnings, suggesting short and medium-term evaluations underestimate the returns of training programs, as do those that fail to consider effects on longevity.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27103

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