Three years into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to disrupt the labor market. America is no longer struggling with high unemployment rates—instead, we are facing a labor shortage. For much of the pandemic, childcare challenges, low wages, early retirement, self-reflection and worries about the virus kept people from returning to the office. 33 million Americans have quit their jobs since the spring of 2021 as part of the Great Resignation. To support the labor force and entrepreneurs in this time of time of transition, it is critical that all levels of government empower, enable, and invest in individuals so they can improve their economic earnings.
The most recent U.S. Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, showed there were 10.9 million job openings on December 31, 2021. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, Black workers make up about one in nine workers overall; they represent 11.9% of the workforce. However, Black workers make up about one in six of all front-line-industry workers. They are disproportionately represented in employment in grocery (14.2%); public transit (26.0%); trucking, warehouse, and postal service (18.2%); health care (17.5%); and childcare and social services (19.3%).
Employees who have left their positions are aiming to find better career opportunities with greater pay, job flexibility, and overall healthy work environment and culture. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal says, “White-Collar professionals are reaping big gains as worker bargaining power spreads across the U.S. economy and shows early signs of durability.” For the more educated workforce, it may be easier to advance their career by having transferrable skills and the tools to negotiate before accepting a position. For the low-wage workforce, this will be a greater challenge. Illinois’ government must prioritize workforce development programs to ensure everyone has an opportunity to advance their career if they so choose.
The state of Illinois needs to do more to make workforce development programs accessible and useful for everyone. Illinois should consider adopting similar policies like Maine, Utah, and Colorado. These states have implemented new workforce development programs to manage unemployment rates, the adverse economic effects of COVID-19, and address worker and employer needs. In Maine, Back to Work Program offers qualifying businesses of all industries a one-time $1,500 grant for new full-time hires and a $750 grant for new part-time hires. The new hires must have been receiving unemployment benefits at the time of hiring. Colorado implemented the “Investments in Reskilling, Upskilling, and Next-Skilling Workers Program” to invest in unemployed and underemployed workers. And in Utah, the state created a new talent development program for eligible business that create new incremental high paying jobs in the state. Program administrators may award up to $10,000 per new job created.
In Governor Pritzker’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget address, he proposed education as a means to mitigate the labor shortage in healthcare and K-12 system.
- Increase MAP funding to $600 million. MAP is a merit based grant for low-income undergraduate students.
- Nurse scholarships and loan forgiveness program
- Increase funding for minority teacher scholarship
Financial support is a great way to help people pivot in their careers. As tuition and fees are rising, people are debating whether school is worth the investment. Governor Pritzker’s investment on the front end is slightly different compared to the workforce programs mentioned above. Colorado’s workforce development program appropriates $25 million for the investments in reskilling, upskilling, and next-skilling workers program (program) facilitates training for unemployed and underemployed workers in the state during times of substantial unemployment, defined as an unemployment rate that exceeds 4% statewide or within a work force development area. Governor Pritzker will persuade incoming freshman and returning adults to choose a career in healthcare by offering financial scholarships. Creating a pipeline to healthcare workers during a pandemic is essential. However, the Illinois General Assembly and Governor should invest in workforce development programs affecting every industry experiencing a labor shortage. In addition, Illinois state officials should appropriate additional funding for workforce development facilities and community outreach so the public is aware.
In addition to college, Illinois should continue to develop impactful workforce programs during and after the pandemic. To achieve this, the Governor must continue to examine programs and policy recommendations through a racial and gender equity lens. Making these changes is important to not only best support Illinoisans, but also best support Illinois’ economy.
Policy Advancement Coordinator