TOP FIVE:  On drug tests, college exams, child support, wages, roads

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By Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent  |  Our weekly Top Five feature offers big stories or views from the past week or so with policy and legislative implications that you need to read because of how they could impact South Carolina.  If you have stories to suggest to our readers, send to:  feedback@statehousereport.com.

  1. More people are failing drug tests than ever before in South Carolina, The Post and Courier, Sept. 24, 2017.

South Carolina’s worker shortage can’t catch a break. The Post and Courier reported the state has the sixth highest rate of workers failing drug tests. Although the state ranks high among failed drug tests, federal surveys show drug use is near the national average in the state, however.  An excerpt:

“(T)he growing number of drug screens coming back positive is a potential stumbling block for employers … South Carolina’s unemployment rate was 4 percent in August, after adjusting for seasonal hiring patterns, hovering near its lowest point since 2001. In the state’s biggest cities, joblessness is even lower. Broader measures of the labor market like the so-called underemployment rate have dropped, too. The result: It’s more of a challenge to fill openings.”

  1. South Carolina ranks higher than average on college placement exams, S.C. Department of Education, Sept. 26, 2017.

Most people agree South Carolina has gained a bad rap for falling below the nation in terms of education. But the College Board has shown the Palmetto State has risen above the national average for SAT and Advanced Placement score.  An excerpt:

“South Carolina saw growth in all three major areas of AP participation and performance. The number of students taking exams increased 8.6 percent to 30,943. The number of exams increased 8.8 percent to 49,071 exams. South Carolina students scoring three or higher on AP exams increased 7 percent to 27,735 exams …

“South Carolina’s overall mean score was 1058, 4 points above the national mean of 1054. SC’s mean ERW [English Reading Writing] score was 539, 8 points above the national mean of 531. The state math mean, 518, was slightly below the national mean of 523.  Forty-four percent of S.C. test takers met both ERW and Math College and Career Ready Benchmarks.”

  1. South Carolina collects 19 percent more on child support, National Conference of State Legislators, Sept. 25, 2017.

South Carolina is among three states to see double-digit increases to the total distributed collections of child support in the nation. Since 2013, South Carolina has had a 19 percent increase in total collections, bringing the 2016 amount collected to $287.6 million. In 2016 across the nation, states collected close to $33 billion dollars for 15.6 million children served by child support enforcement programs.  An excerpt:

“While collections increased slightly, the child support caseload continues to decline, down by 1.5 percent over FY 2015. The cost effectiveness of the program, however, reached a four-year high with $5.33 being collected for every $1 dollar spent on the program.”

  1. Wages remain mostly stagnant for workers, Brookings, Sept. 25, 2017.

There was some good news in recent weeks that the median household income in South Carolina has risen, but a new report from Brookings shows national wage growth has been largely stagnant at the bottom and middle. The report fingers many factors, including declines in real minimum wage and union membership. South Carolina, a right-to-work state, is one of five states without a minimum wage law.  

“One of the best measures economists use to determine Americans’ economic advancement is whether wages are rising, broadly and consistently. After adjusting for inflation, wages are only 10 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, with annual real wage growth just below 0.2 percent. The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers.”

  1. Much of new road work goes toward lobbyist members, WIS-TV, Sept. 20, 2017.

Members of South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads (SCFOR) are benefitting from the state’s new gas tax bill, which was passed earlier this year. SCFOR was one of the lobbying organizations promoting passage of the bill.

“In the first projects, totaling $26.5 million worth of new road work, SCDOT records show contractors affiliated with the SCFOR, were awarded bids adding up to nearly $20 million worth of business, or 75 percent of the work … In the second round of projects, that percentage goes even higher. Records show SCFOR companies won $34.7 million worth of business out of a total of nearly $39 million awarded, or 89 percent of the work.”

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