Paying People to Work

Catherine Rampbell reports on one ARRA-funded initiative to let states subsidize hiring by private employers:

“I never, ever, ever thought I’d end up in an art gallery,” said Tremaine Edwards, 35, a former computer technician who had been unemployed for two years before he was hired in May by Gallery Guichard, a private gallery in Chicago. Mr. Edwards now earns $10 an hour, financed by the government, through the Put Illinois to Work program, to maintain the company’s Web site, curate exhibits and run gallery events.

He has also become the gallery’s star salesman, selling five paintings during the most recent gallery opening despite no background in fine arts or sales.

One important advantage of this sort of thing over simply cutting people Unemployment Insurance checks is its impact on skills. An unemployed computer technician is basically a depreciating asset, the value of his skills deteriorating as technology shifts and he’s not on the job to keep up. A former computer technician working at an art gallery maintaining the company’s website and working on gallery events, by contrast, is learning new things — including new things about himself — and now has more skills than he did before.