May 31, 2003

MANUFACTURED EVIDENCE

Lacking Evidence (Valley News, 5/30/03)
A recent report that compared the effectiveness of job-training programs run by faith-based charities with those run by secular organizations is surprising, not so much for what it concludes as for what it is unable to conclude.

The Indiana study, reported in a Washington Post story that appeared in the Valley News earlier this week, looked at government-funded job training programs run by 11 religious and 16 secular organizations in two counties, from 2000-2002. It found no difference between the programs when it came to job-placement rates or starting wages, but clients of the faith-based groups worked fewer hours, on average, and were less likely to receive health insurance.

Now certainly this seems to undercut the premise of President Bush's faith-based initiative, which is that religious charities can provide many social services at lower cost and more effectively than secular organizations. But the university investigators who did the study were appropriately careful to warn against drawing broad conclusions from their research, noting that they dealt with only two urban counties and one type of social service.

With so much ignorant opinion around it's sometimes hard to tell what is genuine and what is willful obfuscation, but givenn how consistently organs of the Left have gotten this story wrong it seems more intentional than not. The editorialist conflates two issues here in order to attack a straw man. What conservatives actually say is that social services can be provided more effectively by non-governmental institutions and that once government starts funding such organizations, religious groups should be eligible. There are some services that it is indeed claimed are best provided by religious groups--including substance abuse and the like--but job training, considered generically, is not among these. This study then seems to seek to disprove something that no one says is true.

A more useful study might be done though--even in the discrete area of job placement--one which would look at three questions: (1) how do non-governmental programs compare to government programs?; (2) do similar clients have significantly different placement experiences depending on which type of program they are placed in?; and (3) is the clientele different for the three? It's is entirely possible, though we doubt it, that government run progtrams do the best job of the three, at the lowest cost, and do so regardless of how difficult a case the client presents. If that is the case, it would be an excellent though not dispositive argument for bigger government even at the expense of the social/religious sphere. The cited study though tells us nothing of the kind. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 31, 2003 10:39 AM
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