Skills Agenda

For an Equitable Economic Recovery

Spring 2020

The outlook for working people in 2020 is dire. Working families are staring down an ongoing global pandemic coupled with a devastated labor market. Frontline workers struggle to secure the most basic personal protective equipment and frequently must choose between a paycheck and public health. Over 1 million Illinoisans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past 2 months. Historic inequities and unequal community investment means both fronts of this dual crisis are landing heavily in low-income communities of color, who have been left out of many worker protections since long before COVID-19.

Illinois must prioritize emergency response resources to invest in education and skills training to build the foundation for a widely-shared recovery and re-skill the workforce for a new landscape. Before the pandemic, many communities already faced lack of access to education and skills training, workplace discrimination, historical disinvesment, and structural barriers to employment. Black, Latinx, and foreign-born Illinoisans have faced disproportionately high unemployment and poverty rates for years. Many face transportation, child care, housing, or other financial barriers that keep them out of work and in poverty with nowhere to turn for support – that’s true now more than ever. 

Investing in the Illinois workforce will pay dividends towards an equitable economic recovery. SPAC estimates that job training for returning citizens yields a $20.26 return on every dollar spent, yet we do not prioritize workforce investments at the state level. 95% of workforce funding in Illinois comes from dwindling federal investment, which has decreased over 30% over the past two decades. The federal response thus far has not included nearly enough for workforce development, despite unprecedented numbers of unemployed Illinoisans in need of help getting back to work.

Policy Recommendations

  • Direct funding towards inclusive career pathways programming to ensure shared economic recovery and nimble re-skilling for Illinoisans who face barriers to employment.
      1. Restore and increase funding for the Job Training and Economic Development (JTED) Program to connect adults with skills training in in-demand sectors.
      2. Fund critical strategies for inclusive and equitable Apprenticeships, with a focus on wraparound supports and barrier reduction, school/employer partnerships, and pre-apprenticeship programs that build foundational skills.
      3. Invest $100 million in MAP grants to move towards providing need-based aid to all eligible students. 
      4. Support job seekers on SNAP by investing state dollars in SNAP Employment & Training (since every dollar is eligible for a federal match.)
      5. Increase funding for Adult Education and Literacy programs to ensure every adult needing services has the opportunity to transition to postsecondary education or training.
      6. Invest in demand-driven skills training and job placement services for people with criminal records.
      7. Promote inclusive and equitable access to clean energy jobs and green job training through passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act. 
      8. Provide increased, permanent funding for the Illinois YouthBuild Act to offer paid training and work opportunities to low-income youth.
  • Align policy and dedicate resources to eliminate non-skill barriers to employment disproportionately faced by people of color, foreign-born workers, and women in Illinois. 
      1. Support Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave to ensure low-wage workers don’t have to lose their jobs or pay due to illness and family emergencies.
      2. Use federal emergency funds to establish a “Barrier Reduction Fund” to address discrete barriers to employment for job seekers enrolled in training or education.
      3. Eliminate driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay tickets, fines, fees, or child support, and for failure to appear in court, as license suspension contributes unnecessarily to unemployment and is counterproductive given the need for social distancing. 
      4. Ensure access to state ID card services, especially for people being released from the justice system.
  • Decrease the “Digital Divide” in Illinois so that marginalized job seekers can access employment and training opportunities from the safety of their homes. 
    1. Subsidize the purchase of cell phones and broadband internet for recently incarcerated individuals and other digitally disconnected job seekers.
    2. Provide grants for in-demand technology at community-based organizations in need of critical distance learning tools and upgrades.
    3. Invest in free, public wifi in low-income communities who are left behind when education and services are online-only.


These organizations support the Skills Agenda:

Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition
Chicago Jobs Council
Chicago Urban League
Heartland Alliance
Illinois YouthBuild Coalition
LISC Chicago
New Moms
Revolution Workshop
Safer Foundation
Shriver Center
Upwardly Global
Women Employed
Young Invincibles

Do you support the Skills Agenda and want to get listed or involved? Contact Eric.