The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

February 7, 2012

Need for jobs tops county survey

300 local professionals emailed questions

ASHTABULA —  Unemployment tops the list of community needs identified in a survey conducted late last year by the Ashtabula County Community Action Agency.

David Jordan, director of community services for the agency, said the survey was sent to more than 300 Ashtabula county professionals who work in the areas of social services, healthcare, human services, government, education and business. The email request generated 41 completed surveys.

The survey is a requirement of the Community Services Block Grant that funds Community Action programming. Respondents were asked to rank 12 pre-selected issues in order of importance. Jordan said “unemployment” was at the top of the list in 2010 and held that position in the 2011 survey, as well.

“If I did this survey for 20 years, unemployment would probably still be in first place,” Jordan said.

The county’s average unemployment rate in 2011 was 10.7 percent. The December rate ended on an upswing, 9.9 percent from 9.3 in November. Perhaps most significant, however, is that there were 700 fewer Ashtabula County residents employed in December 2011 than there were in December 2010.

The relatively low percentage of college graduates in the county plays into the rate and was reflected in survey responses. When asked what employers in Ashtabula County need most, the overwhelming response was a “trained, educated workforce.”

Going hand-in-had with that, the greatest needs facing low-income families in the county were identified as “better jobs,” “access to job training” and “better education opportunities.”

Last year, county commissioners launched an effort to make sure that the county’s workforce training dollars are being invested in training for jobs that exist. The board launched that effort after a survey and summit on employer needs revealed that many local companies are hiring, but they can’t find qualified workers in the county labor pool to fill those positions.

Jordan said that JobSource is the leading agency for job training programs in the county, so Community Action does not attempt to duplicate those services. He said the agency can assist job seekers who need additional training by referring them to resources in the community through the Ashtabula County 2-1-1 information and referral service.

The agency is also unable to directly address the second-ranked concern, crime. Jordan feels that a perception issue is at work in the high rating. Some of the agency professionals who responded may work with victims of crime and thereby skewed the weight given to the issue.

Coming in third was access to healthcare, which is a multi-segment problem. “It’s a combination of things, with affordability being one of the largest parts,” he said. “It’s hard for low-income folks to get their medical card.”

Jordan said agencies typically see a client when a crisis exists, such as a medical emergency without the resources to pay for it. He said agencies also see clients who have transportation issues related to accessing health care outside of the county. Even local access can be an issue.

“There are some doctors in this town who are backed up so far it can take up to six months to get in to see them if you are (a) new (patient),” Jordan said.

Drug/abuse prevention, housing and domestic violence came next in the ranking.

The survey identified “access to transportation” as the biggest issue facing senior citizens, with “access to food” and “access to home maintenance” second and third, respectively. For working parents in the county, “affordable childcare” sweeps all the other categories by a large margin.

 

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