Is It Time to Blame the Victim?

New College Institute, Martinsville, Va.

New College Institute, Martinsville, Va.

by James A. Bacon

Martinsville is one of Virginia’s hard luck cases. Once a thriving center of home-grown furniture and apparel enterprises, its economy has been hollowed out by international trade, and its unemployment rate chronically runs around twice the state average. Earlier this year, when the statewide unemployment rate was hovering around 4.0%, joblessness in Martinsville had barely dipped below 8.0%.

Given the persistent slack in the labor force, one would think that workers would go to great lengths to get a job. Remarkably, many are not. At a recent Martinsville City Council meeting, city officials and economic developers estimated that about 1,400 jobs were unfilled in the area.

“We don’t have an employment problem. We have a participation problem” — people don’t want to be part of the workforce anymore, City Manager Leon Towarnicki told the council, reports the Martinsville Bulletin.

Said Mark Heath, CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp: the key to filling available jobs is “to motivate people that it’s better to have a job and go to work” than rely upon government aid to sustain themselves.

As an example, Heath cited the experience of the local New College Institute, which launched  the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing in 2014 to train employees for jobs at Eastman Chemical Co. and other local high-tech manufacturers. Students take 28 credit hours of work over two semesters. Financial aid is available; no one is turned away due to an inability to pay. Moreover, graduates are virtually guaranteed a job. Heath had hoped that 40 to 45 people would enroll this semester. The actual number: 15.

Bacon’s bottom line:  The conventional wisdom in Virginia is that unemployment is high because there aren’t enough jobs and that, therefore, government needs to do something to stimulate job creation. A more sophisticated version of the CW is that there is a mismatch between job requirements and the skills of the workforce — Governor Terry McAuliffe has famously said that there are nearly 30,000 tech vacancies in Northern Virginia alone — implying that we could lick the problem if only the educational/training system did a better job of equipping workers with the skills that employers need.

Without question, solving the jobs-training mismatch is part of the solution. But how we explain the situation in Martinsville, where a mechanism exists to train workers and provide them jobs, and there disappointingly few takers?

Dare we “blame the victim” and suggest that not all Virginians are equally motivated to find work… that some are content to live on government support, as meager and inadequate as that may be?

Read the comment thread on the Martinsville Bulletin article. It’s fascinating. Some readers point out that it’s hard to go to school if you can’t afford to pay for rent, gas and day care. Others, many of whom put themselves through school to earn a credential needed for a job, have no sympathy whatsoever. As one man a said, “I just spent over two years going to school at night while working 45 hours a week. Where there is a will to succeed, a way is made. Work ethic is dying in this country, and it is starting to show.”

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28 responses to “Is It Time to Blame the Victim?

    • “The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer and narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”

      Taken from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1935 State of the Union Message.

  1. curious numbers:

    Population estimates, July 1, 2015, (V2015) 13,645

    In civilian labor force, total, percent of population age 16 years+, 2010-2014 52.2%

    Total employment, 2014 9,275

    so here is what I can’t find – how many people are unemployed?

    if I multiply 8% times 13,645 – I get little more than 1000.

    if I multiply 13, 645 times 52.2% (the over 16 workforce),
    I get 7095 and the stats say that 9275 are already employed.

    2000 more than the theoretical workforce… not even counting the 1000 that are unemployed.

    if you add the 1000 to the 9275 already employed you get 10, 275 out of a total population of 13,645…

    it sounds like there are more jobs that there working-age people to fill…

    now the Metro area is 73,346 but the unemployment and available workforce stats are not as easily gathered.

    Finally – in Va. able-bodied folks without kids don’t get TANF nor MedicAid so not sure what they do get … makes me wonder how many of the unemployed are Moms…who are undereducated, probably do not even have a high school education or enough education to actually get trained even if they had free child care.

    not making excuses.. but in a lot of these cases – it’s a Mom with a crappy education … and no easy path to a decent job… they go to work and they lose they lose benefits like MedicAid and don’t get Child Care… their jobs are low end and don’t necessarily coincide with the hours the kids are in school.

    the easy answer is don’t have kids if you can’t afford them… but that’s the one thing that society guarantees everyone – that you can have that family…and still make it work – it’s a promise not kept.

    The very best employment policy , bar none, is a free IUD to any woman starting in their teens.

  2. Typical conservative screed up. Not enough work ethic! It’s the little guys’ fault!

    Mind you that companies that used to run the textile businesses stole the industry from New England by exploiting the uneducated Southern poor and the antagonism towards labor unions. After a few decades of decent jobs, the same economic dynamics put the industry in Bangladesh or Guatemala. I doubt the owners really suffered. They either held on to their stock or got a parachute out.

    So now we’re going to beat up on the working class by calling them lazy because everyone didn’t rush in to spend a year training for a Kodak job they may or may not get. Just curious. Who pays for the training? If the unemployment rate is still 8 percent, there are obviously not enough jobs available. Or, at least jobs people want to take.

    • Peter, you strayed perilously close to insight in your very last sentence — “jobs people want to take.” In the context of illegal immigration, we’ve all heard that there are some jobs that Americans just don’t want to do. Seems like some workers are getting pickier and pickier. Not only are there some jobs they don’t want to take, but there are some training programs they don’t want to take either.

      • “Jobs Americans just won’t do”

        In Virginia 12.1% of the population is foreign born. In South Dakota it’s 2.9%. How does South Dakota survive? Who does all the jobs that Americans just won’t do? Ghosts? Robots?

        • When I was a kid, my dad supervised a telephone installation and repair crew that handled the South St. Paul, MN stockyards and other nearby businesses. While the nature of the packing plant work was dirty and dangerous then, the workers were unionized and reasonably well paid. Not so today. You think it might have something to do with illegal immigration and the desire of some businesses to pay workers zip? What say you, my good friends who lean left?

  3. Thinking ….always dangerous…. but we almost never really accurately characterize who the unemployed are – for a given place – like Martinsville – then once we actually do know more – work on the areas where there are people who would work if we could address the areas that are obstacles to them.

    The most obvious is single undereducated moms.

    Mom is not going to be working – for instance – the 11-7 shift if there is no one at home for her kids.

    Is there day care for kids for outside of daylight hours?

    I did go to the Virginia Employment Commission and sure enough there are 921 jobs – and in theory enough to employ all the unemployed….

    and actually quite a few of the kind that someone with a basic high school education could do but very low pay – 7, 8, 9 , $10 an hour … $10 an hour is $20,000 a year. Not sure how you could live on that especially if you lost your TANF, housing, and MedicAid.

    so again – when we say there are 8% unemployed – we need to look closer as to who those unemployed are – and what their actual prospects are – to be “employed”… would they really be any better off if entitlements gave them a place to live, food to eat and medical care and being employed would not?

  4. “The most obvious is single undereducated moms.”

    And that would be MY fault?

    65% of all 2014 Martinsville births from unwed mothers.

    Again, and that would be MY fault?

    • No – it’s NOT your fault – totally true – but you are, in fact, paying taxes to support the folks who are unemployed and if you want that to change then you have to want to do more than just point it out as a failure of others.

      Recent pilot studies have shown a 40% reduction in unwed mothers when that group was offered free IUDs with more of them staying in school, completing high school, getting trained and joining the workforce.

      Maybe a “free” IUD is a lot cheaper than a lifetime of entitlements, and another generation of the same problem, eh?

      you might call that “leftist”. I call it cost effective fiscal conservatism. I’m for whatever works , as opposed to blaming others and walking away – and continuing to pay entitlements.

      we’re not getting rid of entitlements – it’s only a wet dream of reactionary folks… not a real option… so what do we do? refuse to do anything, continue to blame and walk away?

      this is the problem we have these days with Conservatism in general. They can and do cite the stubborn continuing problems we do have, the fact that we have not solved them, assert no progress has been made – and advocate for what should be done instead?

      This thread is an example of that. It’s pointed out that there are jobs available, people that won’t take those jobs – then at the end – what solutions are proffered? None – the concluding thought is ” Is It Time to Blame the Victim??”. That’s the “new” Conservative response?

      I’d say it seems to always have been – .. pro forma, it’s become the standard Conservative response… “Don’t blame me”!

  5. Hcj
    Who are you to judge?

  6. Really, here is a bunch of well-to-do guys who can pick and choose their jobs and live lives of comfort and privilege making moral judgments about people who are less privileged. Many advocate doing as little as possible for the less fortunate.

    • Peter, I’m not making “moral” judgments. I’m making judgments about what character traits lift people out of poverty.

      Perhaps you can tell us about your deep reservoir of experience that allows you to debunk our observations.

      In any case, you don’t listen to us. Go to the Martinsville Bulletin comment thread and see what readers, who have struggled and succeeded, have to say.

    • According to the post it was the city manager of Martinsville who said some of the residents of Martinsville just didn’t want to be in the workforce anymore. Talk about privilege! The privilege to only work when and if you feel like it. Must be nice.

  7. “Who are you to judge?”

    So tell me I don’t have a say even though I still get to pay? For those 65%?
    Step 1 – Get an education
    Step 2 – Get a job
    Step 3 – Get married
    Step 4 – Have all the children YOU can afford.

    Now, this is your brain on drugs….(sound effect – sizzle)

    • Besides being politically incorrect, not paying enough taxes (unless you are the lefty billionaires that pay damn near nothing) is the only bad thing an American can do, as per the Democratic Party.

      Has anyone noticed that tax-raiser Obama has the Treasury Department fighting the European Union’s attempt to overturn the sweetheart tax deals Ireland gave Apple?

  8. paying taxes and harrumphing:

    Step 1 – Get an education
    Step 2 – Get a job
    Step 3 – Get married
    Step 4 – Have all the children YOU can afford.”

    has not fixed the problem though…

    and neither does whining about Obama… (of whom this problem far preceded him).

    so here’s the reality – you got 65% who are not taking the jobs – so now what?

    more harrumphing and Obama blaming?

    see what I mean about Conservatives these days?

    out of ideas but not out of blame, eh?

    we need these guys in charge to “fix”? why? they already said they have no ideas – all they want to do is blather… and blame…

    wait.. let me guess… there’s a guy running right now who will FIX it, the BEST EVER… right? he never says what he is going to do to fix it but he claims he will… so we need get him in there, eh?


    how about this:

    1. IUDs for teenage girls – for zero dollars
    2. get them to finish high school
    3. – get them into a certificate program
    4. – get child care for the ones who already have kids
    5. – let them work but keep enough entitlements to make
    it worth their while to keep their jobs and reduce their dependence on govt.

    or some variation that does work… and does reduce costs to taxpayers…

  9. It’s certainly not the only the less affluent who are taking advantage of us taxpayers. I know plenty of self-designated butt sitters. They make some money and stop working in their 40s and 50s. They still expect the U.S. military to protect them, the police to keep them safe, the schools to educate their children. They just don’t want to pay much in the way of taxes for all that.

    My proposal is for a “butt sitters” tax. Anybody under the age of 65 with a net worth over $150,000 ($300,000 for couples) must pay 3% of their net worth in taxes every year.

    If you have a net worth of $1m you must pay $30,000 in total taxes. If you have a job making $200,000 per year you’ll easily be paying that much in total taxes. However, if you’re a butt sitter you might not. If you only paid $20,000 in total taxes you’ll need to divest some of your assets to pay the additional $10,000.

    Refusing to participate in the workforce should carry a cost for everybody.

  10. re: ” Anybody under the age of 65″

    anyone over 65 with a pension, IRA or 401(k) – without Medicare – a high percentage of them would barely be able to survive.

    Medicare is the greatest wealth preservation program in the history of entitlements – and it will drive us to financial disaster faster than Moms on welfare.

    We charge elders $122.00 a month for health care and if we charged them $600 or $1000 a month -many would lose a third to a half or more of their income and live on the edge of or in poverty.

    The question is why are folks over 65 “entitled” to health care for $122 a month and look down their nose at others getting entitlements?

    Over a million people get Social Security in Va. Without that having been mandated for the years they worked – how many, including state workers with defined pensions – would have enough to live on AND afford their medical care?

    The average Social Security benefit in Va is $15,079.

    • Larry, LBJ knew folks 65 and older vote election after election so long as they are able to get around. And he also told the public that, if you play by the rules (pay your SS and Medicare taxes), you too will receive yours. The feds have created a strong belief that SS and Medicare are earned entitlements.

      Missing from your plea to expand Medicaid, etc. is the “play by the rules” part. In many cases, there is very little working and even less tax paying. The public does not see this as an “earned” entitlement. Do you think LBJ would have been able to pull off “free” Medicare? No direct taxes. I think not.

      • To buttress your point. Imagine us today trying to put dying regions of our country under a Marshall Plan. It would not work. Because the people there now will not work. The monies now are not considered a hand up but a hand out.

        That is the way “free money” is being sold to the American people today. This long ago happened to the American Indians on the Reservations. Now it is spreading everywhere throughout the land.

        Read for example, The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying the American Indians.

      • @TMT – people do NOT pre-pay into Medicare Part B -at all – not one cent.

        it’s 75% subsidized by tax dollars and beneficiaries pay 25%.

        MedicAid is 100% taxpayer funded. So are Emergency Rooms.
        the question is which of the two is lower cost for people who can’t pay?

        re: LBJ – again – keep in mind that no one pays FICA taxes for Medicare Part B. Those taxes pay ONLY for Part A.

        How many people if they were not forced to pay Medicare Taxes for Part A would have enough money to pay for their Medical care when they retire?

        How many people have enough money to pay for their long-term care if they end up in a nursing home? How come MedicAid which is for the “poor” ends up paying for nursing homes for people who own their own homes and have hundreds of thousands in assets?

        • Larry, LBJ and his allies created the story that Medicare recipients pay their way. And anytime anyone has proposed cutbacks, the story is repeated. Go give your speech to a room of retired people. Tell them they are free riders and they should pay more so that people who pay nothing can get something.

          Your guys and gals created the belief system.

          • LBJ did not create Medicare Part B … it was later…

            I created no “belief” system. I have over and over sought to dissuade any and of of the myth that folks paid into Medicare Part B and that INCLUDES people who are Still working who are too lazy to find out the truth for themselves.

            Each of us has a responsibility to find out the truth – the facts and no blame others for our own mistaken “beliefs” – which includes the idea that employer-provided insurance is not also heavily subsidized by taxpayers as well as rules that force the insurance companies to cover all employees and cover them for the same price regardless of their individual health status.

            People willingly belief what makes them comfortable that they are not the ones getting entitlements but others are.

            seeking the truth is not what they do.

            and when you tell them the truth – they then blame others for their “beliefs”…

            no excuses TMT – each of us has a responsibility to know the truth – to seek it – to know it. Blaming others is what the irresponsible do.

  11. From H.L. Butler, Reedsville, N.C.”

    “Work ethic is dying in this country, and it is starting to show!”

    No truer statement has been made lately and should be the mantra of the current election! I am an educator in the trade field for a community college and an employer for a wholesale distribution company. It is scary to see what is coming out of high schools now. There is no work ethic, self reliance, or student accountability anymore. Everyone expects everything to given and not earned. When you don’t earn, you don’t respect! Sorry to say this is coming from the parents and grandparents. Those were the generations who did not respect school and education. Those values are now passed to the kids who have no respect for school and learning. It is not about teaching- it is about learning! But it is always the fault of the school, the teacher or the system for a student not meeting requirement. When was the time that if you got in trouble at school you had even more trouble when you got home? Now it is the parent/kid against the school no matter what the kid did. Let’s get students off of the IPADs, laptops and tablets and put a pencil back in their hand.

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