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Joe DeGrella of Louisville trained as a cardiology technician but works at AutoZone. Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Millions of laid-off Americans have used federal aid to train for new jobs, reports the New York Times. Yet many end up jobless and in debt.

It’s not clear the $3.1 billion Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which was reauthorized last month, improves trainees’ odds of finding a job or their earnings. Nobody keeps track.

When Joe DeGrella’s construction company failed, he met with a federally funded counselor, who “provided him with a list of job titles the Labor Department determined to be in high demand,” reports the Times. He chose a college certified to offer job training and received a federal retraining grant.

Two years studying to be a cardiology technician at Daymar College, a for-profit in Louisville, left him with $20,000 in debt and no job. Now 57, he moved into his sister’s basement and works at an AutoZone.

About 21 million jobless people entered retraining at community colleges, vocational and business schools, and four-year universities in 2012.

“The jobs they are being trained for really aren’t better paying,” said Carolyn Heinrich, director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the University of Texas.

Laid-off workers spend less to take classes at community colleges. However, completion rates low. Defaults are a growing problem.

At Florida Keys Community College, the default rate is 19.4 percent, reports the Times.

The college charges nearly $11,000 for a two-year degree to get a job as a nursing assistant. Median — not starting pay — for a nursing assistant in Florida is less than $26,000 a year.

The updated WIA requires states to “track former students to determine if training helped them find work with sustainable wages,” reports the Times.

. . . In some states, data and academic studies have suggested that a vast majority of the unemployed may have found work without the help of the Workforce Investment Act.

In South Carolina, for example, 75 percent of dislocated workers found jobs without training, compared with 77 percent who found jobs after entering the program, according to state figures.

The government is “a terrible prophet for labor needs down the road,” writes Ed Morrissey on Hot Air. The WIA should subsidize “employer-based training for jobs that need filling now or in the near future,” ensuring that people are trained for “real jobs.” Even then, taxpayers will end up paying for training that would have occurred anyhow.

Morrissey recalls the classic Tennessee Ernie Ford song:

You pass 16 classes and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don’t you call me, it wouldn’t be cool.
I owe my soul to the vocational school.

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Joanne Jacobs, formerly of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, is a freelance journalist who blogs at joannejacobs.com.

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