• What 'Free Labor' Really Means: The 'Georgia Works' Plan.

    The last time I worked for anyone "for free" was back in college, when I was fulfilling my internship requirements at the university's public relations department. Even then it wasn't necessarily "free" - in exchange for an extra helping hand and a number of professionally-made promotional pieces, I received the necessary credits needed to move on in my undergraduate career. The "Georgia Works" program resembles something of the sort, but there are a few things that made it stand out to me.

    The program "works" like this: if you're a currently unemployed individual drawing benefits from the state, you have to undergo "workforce training." To fulfill this requirement, you spend up to eight weeks with a willing employer participating in the program. You get to "show your stuff" to what could be your future bosses and fulfill the "workforce training" bit. The employer gets eight weeks of "free labor" from the state, with no obligation to hire anyone from the program. If they do, they save time and money on training. The "intern" still draws unemployment benefits and receives a $240 stipend for transportation, child care, etc,. It's unclear whether that's $240/week or just $240 for the entire period, period.

    The reason it stood out to me was because it smacked of "free labor," in the sense that participating employers enjoy what is essentially "free labor" - they don't have to pay these people because the state is taking care of that for them. No benefits, either, unless you consider Medicaid/Medicare one. And when the period is over, the employer has the luxury of dismissing their "intern" for a fresh face and another eight weeks of "free labor." Granted the "intern" can only work under 24 hours per week, but if there was a way to increase the number of required hours per week, you can bet your bottom dollar they would be increased.

    "Georgia Works" seems like a win-win situation, except:

    • Job seekers are tied down with a single potential employer for up to eight weeks, when they could be spending their time applying for multiple employers for an increased chance of landing a job.
    • Job seekers are still "working" for peanuts -- those unemployment checks are not as glamorous as the hardened Teabagger conservative makes them out to be. Compared to a genuine job with a paycheck and benefits, they're still barely getting by.
    • Single-parents are once again burdened the most by the program -- it's the hassle of locating and securing daycare arrangements for their kids that makes this program a bitter pill to swallow, and a $240 stipend doesn't go that far when it comes to child care.

    Mike Konczal over at "new deal 2.0" did a bit of digging and found out that nearly 70% of the program's 30,000+ participants between 2003 and 2010 were women, and that a surprisingly high number of them only had high school diplomas. Only 16.4 percent were permanently hired by the company they trained under during or at the end of the training period. According to Dr. Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, two-fifths of the participants who found employment within the program were doing clerical work, with others working in general service industry occupations - hotel maids, fast food workers, drivers, janitors, etc,.

    Apparently, the program is such a success that President Obama and others want to promote the program on a national scale. For the administration, it's all about doing something to alleviate the nation's current unemployment crisis. For conservatives, it fits into the narrative that if people want aid and assistance, they'll have to put in some sweat equity for it. For the unemployed, some may welcome it and others may find it detrimental to their job seeking...

    I wouldn't want to work my hardest to impress the hell out of someone for eight weeks and a chump-change stipend, only for that someone to say "thanks but no thanks." And I wouldn't want those eight weeks to bog me down when I could up my chances of employment tremendously by applying to and getting interviewed by multiple companies in that same time span. There is a sort of certainty to the "Georgia Works" program, while at the same time there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding it. And on a national scale, it can be abused maliciously by corporations - instead of employing candidates through normal channels, close those off and funnel everyone through the "Nation Works" program. It's like having your very own "try before you buy" temporary staffing agency. Not a good look for anyone involved.