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Michael Thurmond’s Georgia Works program could be part of Obama’s new jobs plan

By Maria Saporta

Georgia’s own Michael Thurmond will be a behind-the-scenes player on the national stage when President Barack Obama unveils his new jobs plan on Thursday.

A program started by Thurmond when he was Georgia’s labor commissioner could become the cornerstone of a plan to stem America’s deepening unemployment crisis.

Several national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, have reported that Obama is consider proposing a nationwide version of the Georgia Works program when he unveils his jobs package during a speech before Congress on Sept. 8.

“I remain convinced that Georgia Works has national implications,” Thurmond said in an interview earlier this year when he became a partner with the Georgia law firm of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer. “It has the potential to become the solution to the unemployment crisis in America.”

The Georgia Works program was created by Thurmond in 2003 to help those receiving unemployment checks to train for jobs with potential employers.

Job seekers continue to receive their unemployment insurance benefits and a small stipend to offset the costs of transportation and childcare, etc. The jobseeker then gets a chance to audition for a full-time job and acquire valuable skills and references that will strengthen the trainee’s resume.

The program has been described as a “win-win” scenario for job seekers and employers alike.

The Georgia Works program also has been praised by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. In a 2009 letter to President Obama, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor suggested that the federal government should adopt the Georgia Works program nationwide, stating that it “has resulted in faster returns to work, less unemployment payments and lower state unemployment taxes.”

Also, former President Bill Clinton recommended the program in a Newsweek interview in June.

“One answer to the skills roadblock comes from the former labor commissioner in Georgia, Michael Thurmond,” Clinton said. “After job vacancies go unfilled for a certain period of time, the state offers businesses the money to train potential employees themselves. During the training period, the companies don’t become employers, so they don’t have to start paying Social Security taxes or employer benefits. They train people their way, then hire those who succeed as regular employees, reducing the time lag between when a job is advertised and when it is filled.”

It is a politically divisive time in Washington. When Obama unveils his job plan later this week, the question will be whether a national version of Thurmond’s Georgia Works plan will be able to generate enough bi-partisan support to put Americans back to work.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. BillEvelyn September 6, 2011 5:52 pm

    True. No jobs Thurmond. Hopefully it will not go national.Report

  2. iammpem September 8, 2011 10:51 pm

    If my understanding of “Georgia Works” is accurate, it doesn’t help people who can no

    longer receive unemployment benefits.

    The problem with that is that there are plenty of people who have been “laid off” from jobs in a

    “technical” profession, and have been unemployed for so long, that’s it’s almost impossible to

    get work.

    Apply for a job in the same profession, and if there’s any feedback, the concern is expressed

    that technical skills have atrophied. The prospective employer would rather talk to someone

    who’s currently working.

    Apply for a job such as stocking shelves, and the fear is that the applicant won’t be around long,

    because they’ll be getting a much more high paying job in their usual profession.

    Unemployed people are very unlikely to have the hundreds of dollars, PER TEST,

    that it can take to purchase so called “Certification” tests, to prove that their skills

    are still sharp.

    I know all too many people in that situation.

    How about some Federal funds as loans to such people, paid directly to the testing service

    if need be, so people in that situation can put something on their resumes that’s current,

    which proves skills are still sharp, so they can get a job? Then let them pay back the loan

    with pre-tax dollars once they have a job.


  3. Burroughston Broch September 11, 2011 4:17 pm

    This program brings to mind Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s comment that extending unemployment benefits adds the greatest number of new jobs per dollar.

    Pure doublespeak.Report

  4. Burroughston Broch September 11, 2011 4:17 pm

    This program brings to mind Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s comment that extending unemployment benefits adds the greatest number of new jobs per dollar.

    Pure doublespeak.Report

  5. Burroughston Broch September 13, 2011 11:13 pm

    Ever wondered how “Georgia Work$” works? Here’s some information from an opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal.

    Unemployed people train at a potential employer’s place of business for 8 weeks.

    They are not paid by the potential employer; instead, the State continues to pay them unemployment plus $240/week stipend. Last year the stipend was increased to $600/week until the costs exploded, at which time it was scaled back to $240/week.

    Only 14% of participants were hired by the potential employer, a success rate similar to other programs.

    End result is the same success rate at a higher cost. Only in government could this be called a success.

    Let’s hope that the Federal Government comes up with a better plan,Report


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