Sen. Joe Manchin chairs the first meeting on his "Standing Up For the Next Generation" tour this week at the W. Kent Carper Justice and Public Safety Complex in Charleston. At right is Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.
Manchin hosted a roundtable discussion with business, labor, government and community leaders focusing on the local effects of the nation's fiscal standing.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., began a weeklong tour of West Virginia on Tuesday to discuss the federal debt and what it means to the next generation of Americans.
Manchin also continued to promote a national group called No Labels, which recently named Manchin and Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah, its honorary chairmen.
On Tuesday afternoon, Manchin hosted a roundtable at the W. Kent Carper Justice and Public Safety Complex in Charleston, asking local business, labor, government and community leaders what issues they believe are important to "rebuilding a better America."
Manchin said, "In West Virginia, we have the lowest rate of participation in the work force" of any state.
"The Baby Boomer generation is reaching retirement age. This demographic trend is taking productive folks out of society," said Mark Muchow, deputy secretary of the state Department of Tax and Revenue.
"Per capita personal income in West Virginia is likely to go down" as coal employment drops, Muchow added.
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said part of the reason workforce participation is low is there aren't enough jobs for people who want them.
"There are 14,000 fewer jobs now than in December 2007," Boettner said. "Today, there is only one job for every three people who need a job."
Josh Sword, the new secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said rising medical costs must be controlled.
"Medical costs rise between 6 percent and 10 percent a year," Sword said. "We have allowed that industry to outpace everybody else."
Gaylene Miller, AARP's state director, said she was "delighted Manchin called together such an interesting group of people."
Miller believes Social Security and Medicare benefits are critical to the well-being of the state's senior citizens and provided a "fact sheet" that said:
In 2011, 92 percent of all West Virginians over 65 collected Social Security. The average annual benefit was $13,500.
Social Security accounts "for 70 percent of the typical older West Virginian's income."
Today, about 9 percent of older West Virginians, or 25,489 individuals, live in poverty. Without Social Security benefits, another 45 percent of all Mountain State seniors, or 127,782 individuals, would fall into poverty.
In 2011, nearly 98 percent of the state's seniors were enrolled in Medicare.
Manchin believes immigration is another critical issue. He said that before he became a senator, he did not realize "the economy would be devastated in our Southwestern states if all the illegal immigrants were sent back. I did not know that because it is not a part of our culture here."
Manchin said he believes illegal immigrants should be allowed to become citizens if they graduate from two-year or four-year colleges or if they serve in the military.
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said widespread drug abuse is a major problem confronting West Virginia businesses looking to hire new people.
"We have an epidemic out there. We have employers who cannot find people who can pass drug tests. We've got jobs for people who will pass the drug test," Roberts said.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he worries about proposed "massive spending cuts."
"I am astonished to hear all the people who say spending is the main problem," said Carper, who believes other problems also cause our financial problems.
"We will see less and less federal spending on roads and businesses," Carper warned.
In a Tuesday-morning conference call before Manchin's event in Charleston, his No Labels co-chairman, Huntsman, said that he believes the entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- are the "key cost driver" for the government's financial problems.
"Unless you do something about entitlements," Huntsman said, "in 15 years it will have an impact on every single American."
To do that, he said, "You need members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to put their country first."
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