The Chicago Tribune’s story about the end of the Put Illinois to Work program (“Quinn to end temporary jobs program next month”) supports the Tribune’s editorial narrative that government programs are wasteful and ill-conceived, but only by putting the program in a false light. The Tribune incorrectly assumes that the goal of Put Illinois to Work was to place the participants in permanent jobs, and then it criticizes the failure to achieve that goal.
Put Illinois to Work has provided temporary jobs to 25,000 Illinois parents and youth who have been unable to obtain employment in an economy where there are five job-seekers for every job. Most of those temporary jobs have been in the private sector.
The premise of the Tribune’s story is that the program has failed in its “ultimate goal of workers getting full-time employment.” The Tribune cites no authority for its assertion that this is the program’s ultimate goal—it just says it was the program’s “idea.”
But permanent employment was never the program’s objective. Rather, the main goal, at which it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, was to create temporary jobs that would provide participants with income and job skills and keep them off welfare. Another main goal was to provide economic stimulus by putting money in the pockets of people who would spend it. In this economy, where there are few permanent jobs to be had, obtaining permanent jobs was a by-product but not a main goal of the program.
The program in part has filled a need created by limitations in the unemployment insurance program. More than one-third of unemployed workers do not qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose their jobs because they did not work long enough, they worked part-time, or for other technical reasons.
The story also failed to mention that for an investment of $10 million in Put Illinois to Work, Illinois was able to leverage $200 million in federal funding—$1 for every $19 in return. Had Illinois not availed itself of this federal funding, it would have gone to other states.
Federal funding ended September 30 not because “the money ran out” but because of pre-election maneuvering in Congress. This left Governor Quinn with a choice—pull the plug on the program or keep it going for two months in hopes that Congress would extend the program during the lame duck session in November. Governor Quinn decided to extend the program based on strong indications that Congress would extend federal funding. And Congress probably would have done so had Senate Republicans not refused to consider any other legislation until tax cuts for millionaires were extended.
This left Governor Quinn with another choice—end the program on November 30 as scheduled or have the decency to extend it through the holidays. He chose common decency.
In this time of scarce resources, when it’s necessary to have an honest debate about the merits of funding government programs vs. cutting spending, let’s have that debate based on the facts.