Walorski Examines Opioid Crisis Impact on Workforce
Manufacturers Facing Worker Shortage Amid Growing Opioid Epidemic
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today discussed the impact of the opioid epidemic on our nation’s workforce at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.
At the hearing, entitled “Missing from the Labor Force: Examining Declining Employment among Working-Age Men,” Walorski highlighted the strain the opioid crisis has placed on workers and businesses in Indiana’s 2nd District.
“In my district in northern Indiana, the home of the RV industry, today right now in just one county we have 30,000 jobs available,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “There are plenty of reasons for this, but I hear it every day from everybody and their brother: they can’t hire workers that can pass a drug test. This is in relation to this latest onslaught of opioid addiction. … These opioid deaths now are being called “deaths of despair,” but there are still tens of thousands of jobs available.”
Asked by Walorski about the relationship between unemployment and the rise of opioid addiction, Brent Orrell, vice president of family and economic stability at ICF International, Inc., pointed to a recent study by Princeton University researchers about the opioid crisis.
“It’s not only unemployment, it’s breakdown of families, it’s the dissolution of other community institutions, it’s problems in marriage, it’s all sorts of things that feed into it,” Orrell said. “But after you control for all of that, you don’t really see the rise in the kind of deaths of despair that we’ve seen until you see the deindustrialization of the American economy and the loss of those jobs.”
Video of Walorski questioning witnesses at the hearing is available here. The text of their exchanges is below.
REP. WALORSKI: You talked in your written testimony, Mr. Orrell, about the need for a “consistent message about the social, economic, and personal importance of work and self-sufficiency.” You trace it back to the ‘96 welfare reform act, and I want to go a little bit further than that. In the 1935 State of the Union Address, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute workers.” Posters for his Works Progress Administration blared in big letters: “Work Promotes Confidence.” … And I know the how is different in today’s culture, but FDR was also a big believer in the idea that those that can work must work and that we must discourage sitting on the sidelines.
In my district in northern Indiana, the home of the RV industry, today right now in just one county we have 30,000 jobs available. We’re at full employment because of about 1.7 percent unemployment, meaning 1.7 percent of the people are not going to work. Thirty-thousand jobs today. There are plenty of reasons for this. I hear it every day from everybody and their brother: they can’t hire workers that can pass a drug test. This is in relation to this latest onslaught of opioid addiction. We’ve looked at this at several layers in my state. The governor, we’re engaged now with the task force, the drug czar in my state, at the federal level as well, looking at our state of Indiana. These opioid deaths now are being called “deaths of despair,” but there are still tens of thousands of jobs available.
Mr. Orrell, from the big picture, can you give us some perspective on the relationship between unemployment and the rapid rise of opioid addiction in our country? And does anyone have any conclusive evidence to determine is this a causal relationship? And then followed up by: if so, does unemployment lead to addiction, or is it vice versa?
MR. ORRELL: It’s a complex interplay of factors. I’d highly recommend the study by Anne Case out of Princeton University, she and her husband coined this phrase, “deaths of despair.” But she really looked at, after you tease out all the factors that could contribute to the opioid addiction, what you get is a cumulative impact on people’s lives that is founded in unemployment. It’s not only unemployment, it’s breakdown of families, it’s the dissolution of other community institutions, it’s problems in marriage, it’s all sorts of things that feed into it. But after you control for all of that, you don’t really see the rise in the kind of deaths of despair that we’ve seen until you see the deindustrialization of the American economy and the loss of those jobs. Unemployment, they argue, is really at the base of this.
REP. WALORSKI: Mr. Ferrens, thanks also for your story. You’ve walked through this world, maybe not just with opioids, but certainly with drug addiction. So for you, you’ve already said how you got turned around into something else when you changed your mind, but as you kind of look out over the scale of the map today, do you think, is it an unemployment issue that turns your head around to say, I need to be responsible, I can do this? I’m thinking of the people in Indiana right now, 30,000 jobs and technically people talking about there’s no jobs, there’s no good jobs. Do you have a perspective on that?
MR. FERRENS: It’s hard for me to fathom that situation. From the inner city, it’s always a lack of opportunities. I know in my walk, drug use starts earlier in life than unemployment, before you even start looking for a job. So I would probably go with drug use leads to unemployment, just from my perspective in the inner city. And a lot of it is the single parent homes, and the I guess what you would call the depression. It’s hard to look at your kid, as a father – you have single parent homes because fathers, you don’t want to be reminded of your failure. It’s hard, when you can’t put sneakers on your kid’s feet, to be in that kid’s life. It’s much easier to turn and run because you’re unemployed rather than stay in that kid’s life because you feel like a complete failure. It’s a big picture, and you turn to drugs to deal with feeling like a failure. It’s far more – bigger than what I can offer you.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.