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Illinois still starving for jobs

The dismal news reported Monday by the U.S. Department of Labor: Illinois still has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. Only economically hobbled Nevada has a worse job picture.

This state’s jobless rate ticked up 0.1 percent to 9.2 percent in July as the state added a modest 7,100 private-sector jobs last month. The national jobless rate is 7.4 percent, which looks pretty grim ... except when it’s compared with Illinois’.

We are not creating many jobs here. We are not competing. We are being left behind.

So pardon us if we don’t get too excited by the celebratory news release issued Monday by Gov. Pat Quinn, declaring great news on workers’ compensation costs. Workers’ comp is one of the most worrisome cost factors for employers, and Illinois for years has been one of the worst states in the union on workers’ comp costs.

In relative terms, yes, the news offered by the governor was good.

The Illinois Department of Insurance estimates that state employers have saved $315 million since Quinn signed a workers’ comp reform law in 2011. A national group has recommended that Illinois insurers cut their rates by another 4.5 percent this year, which would bring the total reduction to 13.3 percent since the law was passed.

The 2011 law made some meaningful changes, including a 30 percent cut in the workers’ compensation medical fee schedule and a preferred-provider program to ensure that employees receive cost-effective medical treatment. The law changed the procedures for appointing and training arbitrators who decide the cases, resulting in the departure of some arbitrators and a higher professional standard for new ones.

But again, Illinois was hopelessly out of line with the costs of other states. Workers’ comp has hurt Illinois’ efforts to recruit new employers, especially manufacturers.

So Quinn and the legislature can’t declare “mission accomplished.”

Illinois still has a relatively low standard for proving a workplace injury. Work doesn’t have to be the primary cause of an injury for an employee to collect benefits. In many cases, there is no requirement to connect the injury to work in a common-sense way. A stricter standard for establishing the cause of an injury would cut a fortune from workers’ comp costs for employers, including the state of Illinois.

It would make Illinois a more attractive place for employers. It would create jobs.

Did we mention that Illinois has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation? That’s right, we did.

Workers who suffer injuries on the job deserve to be protected and compensated. But the system gets abused, and costs soar, when benefits are given for medical problems that aren’t firmly connected to the workplace.

Everyone pays for abuses of the workers’ comp system. It raises the cost of hiring people in the private sector and diverts funding needed for other priorities in the public sector. State government over the years has paid out for highly dubious workers’ comp claims.

A spokeswoman for the governor says he’s “open to more reform in the future.” But this doesn’t seem to be a high priority for him or the House and Senate leaders.

It should be. Illinois needs jobs.

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