By Scott Robertson
In Southwest Virginia, nearly 59 percent of the population does not have high enough income to afford a basic household budget that includes housing, child care, food, transportation and health care, despite a statewide unemployment rate of only 4.5 percent. That means almost three in five southwest Virginians fall into the categories of “below the federal poverty line though employed” and “asset limited, income constrained, employed (or ALICE).” More than one in three Southwest Virginia residents falls into the ALICE category. While around one in four is working, but still making a wage below the federal poverty line.
The United Way of Southwest Virginia announced Nov. 30 the creation of a Financial Empowerment Network (FEN) in partnership with the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board and Virginia Tech’s Virginia Cooperative Extension. Together, those organizations will invest more than $2.25 million to provide mobile training centers to teach the region’s employees some basic financial skills they may not already have. Area employers have already begun signing on to host training for their employees through the FEN.
Among the skills being taught are:
• Setting goals for planning and purchasing
• Saving for emergencies, bills and goals
• Tracking and managing income and benefits
• Paying bills and expenses
• Improving cash flow
• Dealing with debt
• Understanding credit reports and scores
• Choosing money services, cards, accounts and loans, and
• Protecting one’s money.
Regina Sayers of the Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens has already signed up to have her 200+ employees have the opportunity to take part. “I was thinking about how this can serve our employees. The biggest family stresser is usually financial, especially in rural communities where there are low-paying jobs. We need to give the skills, resources and tools to our employees to help them manage their finances. If we can help relieve those stressers, we have better employees. They’ll show up to work and be there for us.”
Another employer already signed up is Sykes in Wise County, which currently has around 800 employees. “We have worked with the major employers throughout this region,” United Way CEO Travis Staton said. “Some of the issues and concerns they have shared with us regarding the workforce – outside of having youth that have soft skills and know of the jobs and occupations available that we’re addressing through our cradle to career initiative – was financial stability. Employers need their employers to know how to manage their own money.”
The financial center serving Galax, Carroll County and Grayson County will be headquartered at the Gate Center, run by Virginia Tech in Independence, Va. The Southwest Virginia Workforce Investment Board will operate the other financial center at its One Stop Workforce Center in Richlands.