Under Rauner, Illinois unemployment rate becomes highest in nation

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Photo by Grace Donnelly

Under Gov. Bruce Rauner, Illinois now has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

The record is quite clear.  Before Rauner, the state’s jobless rate was “in the middle of the pack” among states, and unemployment was going down, said Frank Manzo IV of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.  Since Rauner came into office, unemployment has gone up in Illinois while it’s continued to drop nationally.

The lack of a budget ­– which is the defining feature of Rauner’s governorship – is certainly a factor, Manzo said.

“Businesses value certainty and they want to have confidence that the places where they’re doing business will be able to provide essential services and provide education and higher education so they can get the skilled workers they need,” he said.

Another factor: The budget impasse is really going to cost future taxpayers, Manzo said. Today’s unpaid bills will have to paid, someday, by somebody. “If you’re a business, if you’re a worker or a family, you’re noticing that.  You’re going to bear the burden of the mistakes that are being made now.  And the cost of inaction going forward gets compounded, and the tax rates will only have to go higher if we don’t do something about it now.”

Rauner appears to think the pain caused by the budget impasse is worth it: If he can bust unions, reduce wages, cut public services, drive state retirees into penury and perhaps drive Chicago Public Schools into bankruptcy, he’ll create a capitalist wonderland where the magic of free enterprise will take care of everything.

Manzo thinks the past year and a half constitute “a great case study” for the idea that “lower taxes and fewer government services are the key to spurring the economy.”  Tax rates are down, public universities and private social agencies are cutting back – and unemployment is steadily going up.

Now it looks like the case study will continue, with House Democrats for the second year passing a spending plan with no new revenue. Rauner and Republican legislators agree new revenue is needed – an income tax boost and a sales tax expansion are starting points, along with closing tax loopholes – but won’t sign on without “reforms” they know are unacceptable to the other side of the aisle.

I’m not sure what choice the Democrats had. They could have passed a full budget, but couldn’t override a subsequent gubernatorial veto which would open them to attacks in the coming election. They could toss Rauner a bone from his agenda; reducing access to workers’ comp is often cited here though in other states such changes have driven injured workers into poverty, and here they seem to have lined insurance companies’ pockets rather than reducing premiums for businesses.

And it would have encouraged Rauner to hold the budget hostage again next year for more trickle-down “reforms,” which would likely just depress the economy further.

As a wealthy businessman and non-politician, Rauner has been impervious to pressure.  He and his billionaire friends Ken Griffin and Sam Zell can easily fund his reelection campaign along with any number of legislative candidates.  Other business leaders and Republican elders trying to talk sense to Rauner about the need for a budget have gotten nowhere.

Plus, God bless him, he’s a true believer, and damn the consequences.  He’s not worried about his personal political fortune (his financial fortune being an entirely different matter).  He’s willing to go down burning.

And he seems to be willing to take the state down with him.