As a member of the Utah Department of Workforce Services Southeast Regional Council I, along with other council members, attend quarterly council meetings in which we discuss workforce/economic issues and strategies affecting southeastern Utah. At this quarter's meeting we had a representative from a major national builder/contractor and a member of the Utah legislature address us.
As usual, after his presentation about the company and projects here in southeastern Utah, the floor was opened for question and answers. The council members asked what problems the employer was having in the local area, how well the skill sets of local workers matched the needs of the employer, and what we could do to better meet the present and future needs of this and other employers in our area; his answer sickened me. He related that, for the most part, the skill sets of our local workforce met their needs, finding housing for imported workers was a problem, and that they had to import workers because they were having trouble filling positions with local workers because the company has a zero tolerance policy where drugs were concerned. He went on to relate that recently out of 20 job applicants that were drug tested only two passed and that this was not an unusual occurrence in this area. Two out of 20 passed, think about that...90 percent failed.
While drug use isn't exclusively a regional problem it does appear to be a more major problem in southeastern Utah than we've previously realized or, perhaps more aptly phrased, want to realize. At this same quarterly meeting we were told by the member of the state legislature that the state unemployment trust fund is within months of going bankrupt.
This paradox is the impetus for this letter to the editor...the fact that employers are "importing" workers to fill their local labor pools while, at the same time local potential employees are going unemployed because they can't pass drug tests.
More than 50 years ago the United States government declared a "war on drugs"; a war that we are still fighting (and losing) today with no end in sight, why? I believe one reason we haven't won the war is because we have been treating the problem of illicit drug use as a supply driven problem, spending billions over the years to interdict the supply when, in reality, it is a demand driven problem...reduced to its most simplistic terms, if there wasn't a demand there wouldn't be a supply. I know, I know, pseudo-intellectuals, bleeding heart liberals, psychologists, and cynical politicians will say "Lou, you're being too simplistic. The problem is way more complicated than that."
They would then go on to tell me all the social, physiological, and psychological causes for drug use and, while I can agree that there are social, physiological, and psychological components to the problem, I would argue that the problem will respond to a basic economic truth...no one produces any good or service except in response to a demand for that good or service and supply merely controls the price.
The more removed we get from placing personal responsibility on individuals the more entitlements we have to enact to support them. So here's a suggested solution to the paradox I've described which I'd like to present to you and our local, state, and national leaders.
What if, instead of supporting dependencies in the name of misguided compassion, we demand individuals be self-disciplined. What if, instead of subsidizing those individuals who can't find employment because of drug use we penalize them for it. What if, in order to qualify for unemployment assistance (or any "entitlement" programs [food stamps, TANIF, welfare, etc.]), you have to pass a stringent, well managed drug test...fail the test, no assistance.
I think such a solution could be a step towards resolving at least these aspects of the problems we are facing; (1) it could help reduce the demand portion of the drug problem equation (2) it could help reduce a portion of the unemployment paradox I've described and (3) it could help bolster the local economy by putting more locals back to work as productive citizens, and off the "entitlement" and unemployment rolls, as they become able to pass pre-employment drug tests.
Additionally, I believe that most crime can be attributed, either directly or indirectly, to illicit drug use (both illegal use of controlled substances or abuse of prescription drugs) and that a reduction in drug use will cause a corresponding reduction in law enforcement costs.
In this year of mid-term elections incumbents are, at every opportunity, asking us for "another chance" to "get things right", explaining away their past failures, and promising to return power to the people, strengthen states rights, and resolve the economic failures of the past...here is our opportunity to tell them to put their "money where their mouths are".
Let's give them the next four months, until the November mid-terms, to enact a common sense solution, such as this one, to this problem or face being fired...we don't want to hear any excuses; do it or you're gone...period. This letter in itself isn't going to get that done...believe it or not, not everybody reads the Emery County Progress and most, like state and national lawmakers won't see this letter, so I'd like you to write your legislators and suggest this, or a solution of your own design, to them and encourage your friends and families to write to their legislators in other jurisdictions and make the same demand with the same penalty for failure to resolve this problem.
Remember, the very same long serving, professional politicians presently in office are the very people who, either through their actions or in-actions, have caused every one of the social and economic problems we are now facing and, in spite of their protestations to the contrary, they are not likely to willingly change the behaviors that have marked their tenures.
Your vote in November can change the future...it can return Constitutional government to us, restore the Republic, restore our energy independence, and begin to resolve our economic problems.