Policy Watch Investigates

Broke but unbroken, Charlotte woman struggles to find work

Failure is not an option.

Christy Zemcik used to hang that quote in her middle-school classroom, to inspire her students.

Now, she uses it as a daily mantra to get her through her grim reality of being jobless, homeless and broke.

Zemcik, of Charlotte, has been out of work since being laid off two years ago from an administrative job in a doctor’s office. She’s sent out hundreds of resumes and applications since, but rarely gets calls back or interviews.

She sells her blood plasma for $62 a week, the only type of income she has coming in. That pays for some food, gas, and a storage unit stuffed with what’s left of her life possessions.

We first talked with Zemcik, 41, in May and introduced her to NC Policy Watch readers as one of thousands of long-term jobless workers who had their unemployment benefits suspended as a result of an impasse at the GOP-led legislature. She told us then that she was on the verge of being evicted from her Charlotte apartment.

In the past four months, things have gone from hard to dire for Zemcik.

She was evicted from that apartment, and exhausted all of her unemployment benefits.

Zemcik’s found a place to sleep every night, thanks to the generosity of a member of her church who opened up her home. She doesn’t know how long it’ll be before she wears out her welcome.

Her parents are under their own financial pressures and unable to take her in and help her out. Her mother and father are in their 60s, and her dad recently had to come out of retirement and start working again to pay his own bills.

Zemcik doesn’t have a computer. She applies to jobs by mailing in applications and through the sporadic email contact she has by using the local public library, which limits people to two hours of Internet use a day because of high demand from others like Zemcik.

In job applications, she touts her experiences at past jobs as a teacher, researcher and an assistant in a medical office to no avail. No job offers have come her way.

Her cell phone was cut off weeks ago for lack of payment, and her car is on the verge of being taken off the road because of a busted catalytic converter and an expired inspection ticket.

She feels forgotten.

“So many are going through this, but people have just stopped asking about me,” Zemcik said. “People think you’re not trying, that you don’t have a job because there’s something wrong with you.”

She has plenty of company in North Carolina, where the state’s unemployment rate recently rose to 10.4 percent.

Zemcik manages to remain hopeful that things would change if she could get one job offer, doing anything, to get back on her feet.

“I have to take things and grow from it somehow and some way,” she said.

She ultimately wants to do something that helps others, and brings attention to those like her who want to be working and have the skills to work but can’t find jobs.

So many have lost their voices, and are cut off and isolated like she is, Zemcik says.

But, until she can help others, she needs a job of her own.

For that, she’s wishing that someone, anyone, takes a chance on her.

To hear Zemcik describe her situation in her own words, listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s radio interview with her on N.C. Policy Watch’s weekly News & Views program.

Reporter Sarah Ovaska can be reached at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.