THE MARC train that bore the brunt of last Friday's horrific collision carried young people whose restless energy and recent accomplishments illustrate why the American Dream is alive and well. The eight Job Corps members who died in the crash were returning to the Washington, D.C., area on weekend passes from a regional training center in Harper's Ferry, W.Va.. There are some 110 such centers around the country.
These were young people who had seen their share of failure. But unlike many other troubled youth, they were getting a leg up on life in an intensive, seven-month residential program designed to give them the vocational training, personal discipline and social skills they will need to succeed in the work place.
The Job Corps, sometimes described as the Cadillac of job training programs, is a legacy of the Great Society. It survives despite the efforts of critics who charge it is too expensive, and outright enemies who seek to close it down. These onslaughts have failed, in large part because the Job Corps can demonstrate success.
The program's goal is to turn young people into taxpayers and productive members of society, rather than tax-users through prison or welfare dependence. One evaluation of the program found that the Job Corps returns $1.46 for every $1 it spends, based on the fact that 12 to 18 months after leaving the program, graduates were averaging four more weeks of employment and three fewer weeks of welfare assistance per year than a control group. Job Corps graduates were also slightly less likely to have been arrested or to have had a child out of wedlock.
Since the 1960s, the Job Corps has provided a second chance for kids who have failed at school and are showing all the signs of failing in life. They must want to succeed -- the Job Corps is a voluntary program with a rigid selection process. And they must show the persistence and will to endure a regimented, disciplined program. Many of them don't.
But for those who do persist in the program, the Job Corps is a road to independence and economic opportunity. For Dante Swain and Carlos Byrd of Baltimore, and for the six other Job Corps students who perished in the crash, that road ended too soon.