Sober Living: Treatment needed for improving workforce

Last week, the Appalachian Regional Commission announced more than $22 million to fund eight projects it says are part of job retention and expansion efforts in West Virginia coal communities.

Funding included the usual nonsense, such as nearly $60,000 to, according to the Associated Press, “boost efforts to expand a bicycle trail network in southern West Virginia;” or nearly $80,000 to “assist an economic impact study of the emerging craft beer and spirits industry in Cabell, Kanawha, Putnam and Roane counties.”

Fantastic for the recipients of those grants, no doubt, but a bit of a stretch when it comes to job retention and expansion.

However, the ARC got one right; and it is a plan other West Virginia communities should consider studying. Morgantown Sober Living Inc. will get $485,000 for a workforce development project for people recovering from substance abuse. Developing a sober workforce able to meet the needs of potential employers is one of the most important things we can do in the effort to fight both continued unemployment woes AND the substance abuse crisis, itself. Getting employers on board to offer a second chance to those who have kicked the habit is another.

Yes, unemployment in the Mountain State was at 5.1 percent in December. The national average was 3.9 percent. But a more troubling statistic is that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, last month the labor force participation rate in West Virginia was 53.9 percent. That means more than 46 percent of the people who should be able to work in our state are either unemployed or NOT actively seeking employment. For some of those people, the problem is an inability to pass a drug test; or they are now sober, but a previous drug conviction has employers avoiding them.

In the vicious cycle where unemployment and substance abuse feed each other in an horrendous downward spiral, perhaps a program like the one in Morgantown can make a difference elsewhere.