Georgia Model for Key Plank of Obama Jobs Program Has Problems

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September 9, 2011; Source: Reuters | A key plank of President Barack Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act is a new “Bridge to Work” program that “builds on and improves innovative state programs where those displaced take temporary, voluntary work or pursue on-the-job training,” according to a White House fact sheet. One of the “innovative state programs” that Obama mentioned in his September 8 speech to Congress was GeorgiaWork$, which he described as “a program in Georgia that several Republican leaders have highlighted where people who collect unemployment insurance participate in temporary work as a way to build their skills while they look for a permanent job.” In other words, the state pays unemployment benefits for two months while workers essentially serve as interns or volunteers for private-sector employers.

It’s true; Republicans and conservatives do like GeorgiaWork$. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), a key critic of most of the president’s fiscal and employment policies, went on the talk-show circuit on the Sunday following Obama’s jobs speech to say how much he liked GeorgiaWork$. And conservative domestic policy analyst Reihan Salam touted the program last week at National Review Online. At the other end of the political spectrum, Jesse Jackson has praised the program as well.

Trouble is, the guy in charge of running GeorgiaWork$ told Reuters that the program would not work on the nationwide level. According to Reuters, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, a Republican elected official who oversees Georgia Work$, said that “the program he inherited in January was virtually bankrupt and ‘fraught with problems,’ [and] he is surprised it has attracted so much national attention.” Thomas Smith, a finance professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, agreed, saying that Georgia Work$ had been successful but only “at the margins.” And only 92 Georgians have signed up for the program since February, according to Reuters.—Chris Hartman