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ASSISTANCE: Participation rates cause for worry

Despite all the help wanted signs in Chautauqua County business windows, the county’s work participation rate for temporary assistance programs is just a little more than half what it was 10 years ago.

“There are a lot of jobs available, just not a lot of people that are willing to take the jobs at this moment,” said Diane Anderson, Chautauqua County temporary assistance certification director.

There are many reasons for the decrease. Some who are on temporary assistance may have child care issues that keep them from working. Some may have transportation issues. Some may have hit the benefit cliff, a phenomenon that happens when those on public assistance find working isn’t as beneficial to them financially because they lose too much in state-offered benefits. Some may simply be choosing not to work until they don’t have a choice. Some may be holding out for employers to offer higher wages.

Whatever the reason, a 5.7% work participation rate in Chautauqua County is troubling. At least Chautauqua County has only seen a 4.3% decrease in work participation rate.

The state’s paltry 10.8% rate is downright alarming. Ten years ago the state’s work participation rate was 34.2%.

It’s worth keeping in mind that nothing changed at the state level during a legislative session in which Democrats in both houses of the state Legislature thought it was worthwhile to pass some truly head-scratching bills, like one that allows EMS responders to provide basic life-saving help to pets in the midst of an EMS shortage. Yet the state’s pitiful workforce participation rate escaped legislative attention.

Chautauqua County officials are working to reverse the county’s low workforce participation rate. We wish we could say the same of Democrats in the state Legislature.

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