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.