Get Unemployment Benefits While You Work
Many unemployed Americans would love to get new skills, but can't afford to lose their unemployment benefits. Many employers want to hire new people, but can't afford to spend months training a new employee. The New Jersey Assembly is set to reconsider a bill that would kill these two birds with one stone.
The proposal would allow employers who have a job vacancy to train individuals for up to 24 hours a week for six weeks without paying them, and with no obligation to hire, reports The Associated Press. The trainees could continue collecting unemployment benefits during this time, as well as up to a $100 per week stipend for transportation, child care and other job-related costs.
The plan was vetoed back in February by Gov. Chris Christie, because it came as part of legislation that had a combined estimated cost of $600 million. By itself, the job training bill has a much more modest projected cost to New Jersey taxpayers of $3 million per year.
The program is modeled off of a plan in Georgia, "Georgia Works," which has existed since 2003 and garnered bipartisan support. President Obama spotlighted the plan in his September jobs speech and integrated the idea into his proposed jobs bill.
Over 30,000 unemployed Georgians have participated in the program so far, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. Participation almost doubled in 2009 to over 2,000 trainees, and then soared to more than 14,000 trainees in 2010, when the program briefly extended eligibility to the jobless who were not receiving unemployment benefits. Between 2003 and 2008, an average of 40 percent of trainees were hired by the training employer. In the past three years, that dropped to an average of 14 percent.
Some claim that the Georgia Works program is not an effective way to deal with the country's jobs crisis because it isn't teaching most trainees meaningful skills, or rewarding them with a middle class salary.
A majority of the trainees work clerical jobs, and 70 percent of trainees who were hired between the end of 2009 and the end of 2010 ended up in low-wage and low-skill roles -- janitors, hotel clerks, maids, drivers and restaurant workers -- according to a review by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank. Only a small section graduated to secure middle class jobs, such as social worker or auto repair, and these are jobs that require more than a month or two of on-the-job training.
The government has been subsidizing new hires is other ways, to compensate for the shaken confidence of the private sector. Many county employment boards around the country use federal funds to pay up to 90 percent of an individual's salary for the first few months of their employment. If the company is satisfied with the person's performance, they may then hire them full time.
To some conservative critics, the plan is anti-free market. To some progressive critics, it pushes the jobless into poorly paid positions that would otherwise be filled by temps. For many companies, however, it offers the flexibility to hire again. And for many of the unemployed, it's the chance they've been waiting for.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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