Hoping to reverse the numbers

Carmichael promotes SB1 as way to reduce W.Va. unemployment

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s March unemployment rate dropped slightly since February, but the number of residents not in the work force remains the highest in the nation.

Officials hope the new focus on two-year degrees and certificates can help grow a trained work force.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for March is 5.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 0.1 percent drop since February and a 0.3 percent drop since March 2018.

The March employment level is 738,100, up by 1,100 jobs from February’s numbers, a 0.1 percent increase. The change over the last 12 months saw an increase of 19,200 jobs since March 2018, a 2.7 percent increase.

West Virginia’s unemployment rate is still much higher than the national rate for March at 3.8 percent, unchanged from February and a 0.2 percent drop since last March. West Virginia’s rate drop matched the U.S. rate drop at 0.1 percent, but beat the U.S. 12-month rate drop, which was 1.7 percent.

The only state with a worse unemployment rate for March was Alaska at 6.5 percent. West Virginia tied with New Mexico for 5.1 percent, followed by Arizona at 5 percent, Mississippi at 4.9 percent, and Louisiana at 4.7 percent.

West Virginia’s workforce participation rate — the number of people employed or looking for work — continues to be the lowest in the country. In March, West Virginia had a 54.4 percent workforce participation rate, up by 0.1 percent of February. West Virginia was followed by Mississippi with 55.2 percent, Alabama at 57.4 percent, Arkansas at 58 percent and South Carolina at 58.1 percent.

State leaders are hoping to increase West Virginia’s workforce participation rate with the passage of Senate Bill 1, the last-dollar-in community and technical college program.

“The creation of an affordable pathway to career and technical education for citizens of West Virginia is a landmark moment for our state,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “This program will catapult West Virginia to national prominence in the area of workforce training by providing our citizens with an opportunity to gain or enhance a skill set that can be put to use right away.”

SB 1 creates two pathways to a training certificate or a two-year degree: The Advanced Career Education program for high school students and the West Virginia Invests Grant Program for graduates and adult learners. Both programs allow someone to obtain a certificate or degree from a list of degrees approved by the state Department of Commerce based on the needs of employers.

“There are wonderful and fulfilling jobs within the disciplines found in career and technical training,” Carmichael said. “A traditional, four-year college education is not the right fit for everybody. Many people are blessed with skills and abilities ideally suited for careers in other areas, like HVAC, welding, plumbing, electrical, nursing, coding, etc. These all are high demand fields that pay great wages.”

The programs require the student to maintain a 2.0 grad point average, submit to drug tests and take part in community service projects. The state kicks in money for the degree and certificate programs only after all formers of financial aid are exhausted.

After the student graduates from the program, they’re required to work in the state for two years or have to pay the state grant back.

“I am excited that West Virginians will have this unique opportunity to build a marketable skill set that is perfectly matched to a high-demand job market,” Carmichael said. “Senate Bill 1 is so vital for economic progress in West Virginia. We must encourage our fellow West Virginians to embrace this new opportunity provided by this education reform initiative. Senate Bill 1 is the starting point to grow our state’s available trained labor base, improve our economy, build strong families, and have vibrant careers.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsamdsentinel.com)

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