S.C. jobless at wits' end as U.S. rate tops 10%

Fruitless search for work frustrates, frightens local residents

People streamed into the unemployment office on Taylor Street on Friday - some looking determined and dressed for an interview, others resigned and bedraggled from the job search.

One woman walked out of the door shaking her head and muttering, "no jobs, no jobs, no jobs."

A welder who lost his job after nearly a quarter of a century threw his hands up in the air: "What good has it done me?"

They are all part of the growing fabric of unemployed Americans facing unprecedented financial hardships as the government announced Friday that the national unemployment rate soared last month above 10 percent for the first time in 26 years.

The news came as President Barack Obama signed a $24 billion economic stimulus bill into law Friday, which in part extended jobless benefits another 20 weeks for S.C. workers.

The nation's jobless rate hit 10.2 percent in October, which Obama called a "sobering number that underscores the economic challenges that lie ahead."

The unemployment rate is expected to continue climbing into next year even though the job losses have slowed and some economists have said the recession is over.

South Carolina, with the fifth-worst jobless rate in the nation, went into double digits in January and stood at 11.6 percent in September, the latest month for which numbers were available.

Visitors to the work force center on Columbia's Taylor Street on Friday illustrate the nation's lingering joblessness.

John Hart, a welder with Owen Steel in Columbia for 24 years, said he's struggling to make ends meet after being laid off nearly three months ago.

He is bitter that he "did everything 'society' says you're supposed to do" and now is struggling to hold on to everything he has worked for.

"I feel like I've been demoralized," he said.

Hart's wife was laid off from a call-center more than two years ago and has been working part time for the past year in food services for a school district.

Hart said they have no health insurance and their savings is dwindling as he has had trouble getting a job.

He is hopeful that he will be able to at least get some contracting work after the first of the year when his workers' comp claim runs out from a recent accident.

"I would love to let (unemployment) keep that little $340 a week," he said.

Samuel Nieves has sent out dozens of resumes since he lost his manufacturing job more than a year ago, but the 50-year-old Northeast Richland resident remains unemployed.

He chooses carefully which bills to pay and which to let slide so he can continue to put food on the table from his wife's job at a department store.

Still, Nieves said that he is planning to file bankruptcy to stave off foreclosure of the house he has owned since 1992.

"You rob Peter to pay Paul," he said. "A lot of Americans are doing that right now."

Connie Sluder was laid off from her job as an executive housekeeper at the Radisson hotel on Friday morning. She found herself at the unemployment office a few hours later.

"I'm kind of just numb right now," she said.

Sluder, 37, got hit with a 5 percent pay cut several months ago, but she was not expecting to lose her job.

Sluder, a single mother of three children, has lived in Columbia since 1995. She moved to a cheaper apartment when her pay was cut and is concerned about finding another job in this economy.

"I might have to look in other states," she said.

Sluder said she also might have to change careers. The hospitality industry usually is hard hit during an economic downturn as people cut back on vacations and traveling.

She is concerned about not being able to pay rent and other bills and wishes the government - which has provided mortgage assistance for homeowners - would help renters who lose their jobs, too.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to have to do," she said.