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W.Va. ranks last in people who want to work


The Herald-Dispatach


That’s where West Virginia ranks among the 50 states in terms of workforce participation.

Dr. John Deskins, professor and director of the bureau of business and economic research at West Virginia University, said Wednesday that the state has been last in workforce participation every year since 1976.
“Even in good years when West Virginia was doing well because of energy and other factors, we have continually been dead last since Gerald Ford was president,” he said.

Deskins was among those who attended the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Business Summit at The Greenbrier on Wednesday to discuss what has caused the problem and what solutions may be available to fix it.

“This is a huge subject for West Virginia, and it always has been,” said F. Scott Rotruck, from the law firm Spillman, Thomas and Battle, who moderated the session.

Deskins opened the session by outlining several obstacles facing the state’s low workforce participation.

“Everyone knows about the traditional unemployment rate that (is shown) in media reports all the time,” Deskins said. “We are talking about a different statistic here. We are talking about something that is more long-term, more fundamental than that. What we are talking about is among the entire population, how many people want to have a job.”

Deskins used statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau that show the national average of adult workforce participation is 62.7 percent. West Virginia ranks last in the nation at 54 percent. He said the current statistics are not an anomaly related to the loss of the state’s coal jobs.

“If you combine West Virginia’s workforce participation with high unemployment, altogether it boils down to the fact we have less than half of adults working in West Virginia,” he said. “This issue is related to all economic problems in one way or another. It’s fundamental and there’s no way we are going to get where we need to be unless we find a way to overcome this tremendous workforce participation deficit.”

Deskins said his office will release a comprehensive study on workforce participation in West Virginia within the next week.

The Rev. Matthew Watts, founder, president and CEO of the HOPE Community Development Corporation in Charleston, focused on eight factors he said contribute to workforce development difficulties in the state.

In his presentation, “Every Day is Labor Day,” Watts detailed what West Virginia could do to avoid what he called a “looming labor force and economic crisis.”

“We have an aging workforce,” Watts said.”Forty-four people leave the state of West Virginia every day looking for work, and our death rates outnumber our birth rates.”

Poor health among residents, high dropout rates, low skill levels among graduates, a small percentage of residents going to and completing college, a historically low level of workforce participation among women, and the adult and juvenile criminal justice systems were other factors mentioned by Watts.

“The workforce participation shortage is the state’s most pressing economic challenge,” he said. “If not addressed immediately, it will result in devastation to West Virginia’s economy. We cannot attract companies if we cannot provide a workforce for the jobs those companies provide.”
Del. Carol Miller, R-Cabell, assistant majority leader and chair of the House Small Business and Economic Development Committee, said her job as a delegate is to listen, read, ask questions, research and discuss the issues.

“We have been sending children to college and universities and many of them have ended up in remedial courses before they can even take their basic 101 courses,” she said. “We spend half our state’s budget on education. Are we really getting the most bang for our buck?”

State Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, majority whip and chair of the Senate Labor Committee, said a major hurdle is the government ceasing to give people the option to get paid for doing nothing.

“We have to take away the incentive for lying on the couch,” he said. “They are doing it in my district and across the state. We have students who drop out of school before it lets out and refuse to get a diploma because it’s easier to get a check if you don’t have a high school diploma.”

Finding a way to get those who are willing to work better prepared is essential, Hall said.

“When it’s a better deal to sit at home than it is to work, they are not going to do work,” he said.

Follow reporter Brandon Roberts on Twitter @brobertsHD.


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