Opinion

Hope in Chester County

We congratulate those working to improve the lives of Chester County's unemployed.

In a three-day series that ended Tuesday, Herald reporter Charles Perry showed many factors are to blame for Chester's relatively high unemployment rate. The latest numbers, released in late November, showed the rate was 10.7 percent in October. It was the fourth straight month Chester had the state's second-highest unemployment rate.

The end of textile manufacturing, a culture that hasn't valued higher education, a historically unstable county government, and little coordination between agencies combine to push Chester's unemployment rate higher than some counties in the so-called "Corridor of Shame." The corridor, which generally follows I-95 in eastern South Carolina, has been spotlighted because of poor educational facilities, high poverty rates and unemployment.

Too many Chester residents don't have the skills required by today's jobs. The good news is, many of those residents have the desire and the work ethic to succeed. They just need skills.

The Herald's series introduced us to several unemployed people working hard to gain those skills. They are returning to school, teaching themselves computer skills or learning to read.

But they can't do it on their own. They need help from county leaders, volunteers, and nonprofit organizations.

The series introduced us to several people trying to help, including Vernon Sigmon and Tami Talbert. They are part of the Chester County school district's "Parents as Teachers" program. In just five years, they have entered 2,600 homes to show parents how to read to their children, make homemade modeling clay together, or just kick a ball with their children.

We're encouraged that work has started on the new York Technical College's Chester center. That facility will help laid-off textile workers and others learn the skills necessary to find work in today's economy.

It's disappointing our state leaders haven't done more to help counties such as Chester recover from widespread textile layoffs. Since 2002, more than 4,000 jobs have left Chester County, many of them because of the textile industry. It's tragic the people who lost those jobs -- and their communities -- must do so much for themselves.

On Feb. 19, Chester County leaders will hold a public forum to discuss the county's unemployment and offer help. Fifteen different county agencies will share information on a range of topics, from finding a new career to writing resumes.

Chester County's unemployment crisis won't be solved in a few months or a few years. But the right approaches are early childhood intervention, especially helping parents become better moms and dads; teaching basic skills to adults who can't read and write; and helping other adults learn the technical skills needed in today's job market.

Many people are stepping up to offer those services. We hope their dedication, combined with the new York Technical College center and the February forum, will build momentum to attract the jobs Chester County residents deserve.

IN SUMMARY

Thanks to those stepping up to help Chester County's unemployed.

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