JAN 21, 2016
Governor Rauner is taking Illinois down a dangerous path with his cavalier talk about “short-term pain” being necessary for “long-term gain.”
We’re about to end our 7th month without a state budget, and in recent media interviews the governor has used this language as a way to argue that pushing his agenda is more important than working with lawmakers to reach a budget agreement.
But it’s not clear the pain he’s helping to inflict would only be short term. Take the impact of the lack of a higher education budget, for example. By failing to fund state colleges and universities, as well as tuition assistance for students who otherwise might not be able to pay for college, we don’t just affect those would-be students for a semester or two. We also deny Illinois the economic gains that come from having a better educated, higher earning workforce.
Increasingly, the jobs that pay well enough for Illinoisans to support their families and build a future require higher education. By 2020, 57 percent of jobs in Illinois will require an associate’s degree or higher. But as of 2013, well over half (56 percent) of working-age adults—ages 25-54—lack an associate’s degree or higher, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Direct benefits for those who obtain higher education are clear. On average, someone with a bachelor’s degree will earn $1 million more over a lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma.
In the long term, investment in higher education yields returns to the Illinois economy far beyond those experienced by the person receiving the education. A college-educated workforce makes the state more attractive to business, contributes to greater economic vitality through higher personal incomes and less reliance on public assistance, lower unemployment rates, lower crime rates, and better overall community well-being and opportunity.
The other important thing about short-term pain is who feels it the most. Suffice to say, the failure of Illinois policymakers to agree on a state budget isn’t disrupting the lives of the top 1 percent as much as it affects middle-class Illinoisans and people who struggle to make ends meet. It’s the middle class who feels it when they don’t have access to state child care, services for children with autism, and after-school programs — not the top 1 percent. And, as is the case with higher education, this pain can have ripple effects in our economy for generations.
Responsible public investment improves the lives of children and families. It helps communities to thrive and boosts the state economy. Yet the governor continues to insist that holding back on that investment is somehow worth it.
It’s time for Illinois to ask: What, exactly, is it worth, and who will pay the price?
Is it worth the long-term removal of the rungs of the ladder to the middle class? Is it worth lasting harm to our economy?
The governor is wrong to categorize as short term the consequences of abandoning public investment in children, families and communities.