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Young Worker Protections and Supports for the Future

There have been several lasting impacts of the COVID pandemic in our everyday lives, with one of the biggest changes coming to our workplace. This May, the Illinois Future of Work Taskforce released its report on the changing workforce in the state and recommendations to ensure high-quality jobs for all residents. This Taskforce was led by our partners at Economic Security of Illinois and the full report can be found here. Overall, key findings stress the importance of improving our workforce for young adults immediately.

Every person deserves a good quality job, but what does a good job look like? The Taskforce defines a quality job as one which has a sustaining, livable wage with a predictable work schedule; a benefits package that includes health insurance, paid time off for sick or family leave; a place with safe working conditions; and employer-sponsored retirement plans. A high-quality workplace will respect workers’ rights to freely consider unionization without employer interference, allowing workers to determine for themselves how to organize and bargain for better working conditions.

The Future of Work Taskforce makes valuable and noteworthy policy recommendations that should be taken up by the state of Illinois. To improve job quality in Illinois, the report urges that the state adopt a statewide job quality measurement, which should be used to award state funding to those employers that rate higher on job quality. This statewide measurement would establish a baseline indicator of job quality and an incentive for employers to give employees access to needed benefits. Another policy recommendation is that the state should evaluate and pilot a new enforcement mechanism and penalties for employers with a high number of worker violations. Raising the cost of worker protection violations could ensure employers do abide by regulations and offer needed supports for their employees.

The report further goes to point out that Illinois should establish and extend the availability of public benefits programs not tied specifically to employment and can assist any worker, such as programs that offer financial support for sick or family leave. These programs would help grant protected paid time off to individuals who have been left out for so long due to their amount of hours worked during a pay period or their classification of work. Additionally, public financial supports like a state-administered job barrier reduction fund should continue to be funded and expanded.

The time is now to set some of these infrastructures and enforcements across the state to further improve our workforce. It is essential that we make benefits and extended support to young adults as they enter the workforce. Many young workers have expressed to me never having had paid time off or further financial support as they begin and establish their careers. We are failing our young adults! They are entering our workforce into jobs that are underpaid and are oftentimes excluded from benefit packages and further support. Illinois should be a place that supports all workers, and we must begin with these recommendations in improving the quality of jobs across the state. The Future of Work report presents various industry-specific recommendations; I encourage you to take a further look and see how we can further improve our workforce.

This past legislative session in Illinois, YI Midwest led the adoption of a House Resolution urging the establishment of a Young Workers’ Bill of Rights (YWBR). The protections we identified, with the input from numerous young workers, align with the recommendations and research findings in the Future of Work report. YI will continue to utilize the YWBR to further push for policy adoptions, including many made in this report, to make it clear that Illinois champions young workers.

Jorge Arteaga is Young Invincibles’ Midwest Program Manager, where he leads the office’s workforce development policy portfolio.