Job training programs in Chicago, as across the nation, that are funded by the federal Workforce Investment Act will face massive cuts if WIA funding is nearly eliminated for the next year as the U.S. House of Representatives decided in a late February vote.
Leaders and participants in such job training programs are begging the Senate not to pass the bill.
Bill Leavy, executive director of the Greater West Town Community Development Project in Chicago, said 46,000 Chicagoans will lose job training services if the funds are cut. The leaders and trainees of Chicago groups say these programs provide a critical link for disadvantaged people who want to work but otherwise lack marketable skills.
Ironically, the cuts potentially come just months after the organization opened a new job training center last fall, housing Shipping and Receiving and Woodworking training programs along with an alternative high school in a converted 55,000-square-foot factory on Chicago’s west side.
Greater West Town program participant Helena Brewster said:
I am a single mom who wants to provide for my children without any assistance. Greater West Town’s training in shipping and receiving will allow me to get a long-term job leading to a career. Without it, I won’t be able to compete in this volatile job market.
Small and mid-size business owners are part of a Chicago coalition opposing the federal funding cuts. Business representatives help design the curriculum in the job training programs to make sure the skills match the market.
At a March 24 event hosted by Chicago groups as part of a national day of action, Talat Rashid, owner of a local pump company, said, “These programs are critical to the development of the skilled workforce that our companies urgently need.”
Chicago leaders are furious that Illinois Republican Congressman Mark Kirk voted in favor of the cuts. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Democratic Congressman Danny Davis, who oppose the cuts, joined a local alderman and other leaders at the Chicago event calling for the funding to be protected.
A statement from Durbin says that scores of one-stop job training and service centers would close if the House bill becomes law, including 113 centers in Illinois and about 3,000 nationwide. Sen. Durbin’s statement says:
The Workforce Investment Act is the primary source of federal funding for worker training and re-training. In addition, WIA incumbent worker dollars help businesses upgrade the skills of their current employees, allowing them to stay competitive and retain their workforce.
The National Skills Coalition prepared an analysis of the House bill’s effect on WIA programs. A press release says:
Unfortunately, the materials released by the House Appropriations Committee regarding the CR are extremely misleading, as the table they included shows only $1.4 billion in WIA funding cuts, leading some to believe the cuts are less significant than they really are. In fact, the House-passed CR would actually cut $2.97 billion in WIA funds — i.e. 100 percent of funding for the WIA Adult, Dislocated Worker, and Youth programs in PY 2011. If enacted, these cuts would force many states and local areas to reduce or even eliminate critical job training and employment services, likely causing thousands of new job losses and denying access to the more than 8 million workers and youth who received Title I WIA-funded services in the last year alone.
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Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist, author and assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she leads the investigative specialization at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.