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April 24, 2015

For some long-term unemployed, help is on the way

Virginians who have been unemployed for long stretches are about to get a lifeline, thanks to a federal grant that will give them an opportunity to get more job training.

Despite the increasing education level and skills of most of the workforce, there are some Virginians who do not have the skills to succeed in today’s economy. This month the state’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP ET) program got a three-year, $22.3 million federal grant to help close this gap. Virginia was one of 10 states selected to test innovative education and skills training models for low-wage, low-skill workers.

Thousands of unemployed Virginians struggle to land a job, many for a long time. Over the past year, almost half of all unemployed workers in the state searched for work for more than 15 weeks.

And official unemployment numbers don’t count everyone who is struggling, especially those who want to work but have become so discouraged that they have thrown in the towel. There are also many part-time workers who want full-time employment.

If you add in these discouraged and underemployed workers, plus those who want to work but face other barriers, you find that 10.2 percent of Virginia’s potential full-time workforce was without a full-time job in over the last twelve months. It is clear that serious barriers still stand between those who want work and good job opportunities.

Most of the problem is that there are fewer middle-wage jobs than before the recession and that too many employers are trying to pay workers less and less for the jobs that do exist. But a new report from the Brookings Institution also points out that some employers legitimately can’t fill certain jobs, even at decent wages, because workers don’t have the right skills and training. Especially for those workers who have been unemployed for months, an affordable path to gain these necessary skills is often out of reach.

Virginia will use the cash infusion for SNAP ET to dramatically expand training to help more than 3,700 SNAP recipients without children get their GED and receive college credit or other credentials that employers seek. These expanded services will be offered through seven community colleges and will be tailored to the specific needs of employers in each region to ensure graduates leave the program with skills and credentials needed in the local economy. Participants will also get help paying for transportation and work clothes like medical scrubs if those costs would prevent their participation.

Long-term unemployed Virginians need help, and this new support will give some a chance to pull themselves back into the working world. Governor McAuliffe and the General Assembly should keep their eye on this pilot for what’s working and fund services that have proven to help people get back to work, because a skilled labor force is key to a growing and thriving economy.

– Jeffrey Connor-Naylor, Program Director

The Commonwealth Institute

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