The city of Martinsville has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 14.9%. Danville has the second highest rate in the state at 14.4%. Pittslyvania County came in fourth with 10.1%, followed by Henry County at 9.6% The on-going exodus of local textile and furniture industries, among other leaving businesses, has devastated the Southside economy, and, unfortunately, I don't think we have hit the economic nadir in these areas. As an example, one local employer lays off 70 workers, an almost weekly occurrence.
At the same time unemployment rates are rising, funding for public education is going to have to be cut state-wide. Virginia is in a $3 billion revenue shortfall, and Gov. Kaine plans to cut $600 million from state education costs, according to the newspapers. This, of course, effects local school systems. Martinsville is losing $1.4 million in state education funding. Franklin County, a $3.9 million funding-cut. Bedford County, almost $5 million. In each locality difficult decisions are going to have to be made, inevitably causing both program and job loss. The Roanoke Time's editorial page wishes these cuts to be only temporary.
And, while our funding from schools is decreasing, our local and national competitive advantage is decreasing. According to the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, Glenn DuBois, a high-school diploma does not adequately prepare a student for the workforce like it once did. According to the Danville Register & Bee:
[DuBois] warned that countries all over the world are improving their work forces’ educational levels to attract businesses, and that if this country doesn’t catch quickly, up more jobs will be lost overseas.
“The competitive world is looking to develop their talent, and that’s where the jobs are going to go,” DuBois said.
... “Good-paying jobs go where the work force is,” he said. “And that doesn’t have to be in the U.S.”
... “We have to skill-up in dramatic ways,” he said. “I’m very troubled about the emerging workforce.”
Needless to say, because of the current economic distress, we can't afford to improve our education or fully develop our talent.
A nasty cycle emerges. During difficult economic times for our nation, the Southside has seen amplified effects. We have the highest rates of unemployment due to industry and business departure. The state-wide economic difficulties necessitate cuts in local public education, even while our workforce is losing its competitive advantage. With these funding cuts, the emerging workforce is hamstrung, causing businesses to relocate, often overseas. Unemployment rates rise higher, and the workforce gets more depressed. Mix in the state's highest teen pregnancy rates, ridiculously high drug abuse rates, the flight of our most talented youth, and you start to understand the Southside economic condition.
These newspaper articles were only today's.