State Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor's assertion that drug use plays a major role in state unemployment figures is an insult to the majority of jobless workers. Instead of this senseless speculation, public figures ought to be seeking ways for South Carolina to address the real causes of unemployment in the state.
During a recent state Cabinet meeting, Taylor said he has been hearing from employers around the state that job-seekers who fail drug tests contribute to the state's unemployment problem.
"One of my concerns -- and I get in trouble sometimes because people don't like to hear it -- but one of the complaints that I hear out there are drug-test failures," Taylor said.
His spokeswoman, Kara Borie, later said the statement was made in connection with a discussion about why the S.C. Department of Commerce needed statistics from the S.C. Employment Security Commission on reasons for unemployment. That has been a matter of long-running dispute between Gov. Mark Sanford and the Security Commission.
Nonetheless, Taylor's statement was irresponsible and uninformed. Drug use certainly does not begin to explain why the state posted a 9.5 percent unemployment rate in December -- third highest in the nation.
The biggest factor, as anyone who pays attention to the news could ascertain, is a global economic downturn that has resulted in massive layoffs across the nation. More particular to South Carolina, many workers lack the skills needed to find new jobs once they have been laid off.
Absenteeism, tardiness, substance abuse, theft or simple failure to do the job are perennial reasons people are fired no matter what the economic climate. But Jane Alleva, community relations and prevention director for Keystone Substance Abuse Services in Rock Hill, notes that the number of people seeking treatment for substance abuse problems has remained relatively constant for more than a decade.
If Taylor wants to address the causes of unemployment in the state in a serious manner, he might start with seeking ways to expand educational and training opportunities for residents. Find ways to raise the number of people who get high school diplomas or the equivalent, and then make further training at either a technical school or college more accessible to them.
A more highly trained work force not only would help reduce unemployment, it would help attract new businesses and industries to the state. But reducing dropouts and increasing educational and training options for residents takes time, planning and, probably, more investment in higher education.
It's a lot harder than simply blaming high unemployment on drug use.
Failed drug tests are not a major contributor to the state's high rate of unemployment.