Policy Watch Investigates

As legislators rush toward crossover deadline, NC’s unemployed appeal for help

Creighton

Lee Creighton depends on his elderly parents to buy him groceries to eat in weekly trips to Wal-Mart, something the 45-year-old with a doctorate in mathematics never imagined would happen.

“It absolutely kills me because, at this age, I should be the one going home and helping them,” Creighton said. “I shouldn’t still rely on my parents to feed me.”

The 45-year-old Cary man has been without a job, since he was laid off in October from his position as a statistician and data analyst in the N.C. General Assembly’s program evaluation division.

On Monday, he was back at the General Assembly – but to talk about how hard the job market continues to be at a press conference.

In North Carolina, 9.2 percent of the labor force are without jobs, a statistic that puts the state well above the national average of 7.6 percent.

The job market has proven unfavorable even for someone like Creighton, who holds a PhD in mathematics education, experience in both the public and private sectors, and has taught at both the high school and collegiate level. On top of the math degrees, he also attained a master’s in French literature and has taught culinary classes, accomplishments he thought would signal to employers that he can adapt to different scenarios.

He’s posted updated resumes on Linked In (click here), the networking website, but not seen any interest turn into a job prospect.

The daily rejection leaves him emotionally drained.

“I have filed as many as 25 to 30 applications a week,” Creighton said. “But I never hear from anybody. It’s like it vanishes in a hole.”

Creighton spoke to reporters at a press conference Monday held by state Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat, in an attempt to bring more attention to the needs of North Carolinians like Creighton.

Hall hopes that his colleagues take action on a bill of his, HB 922, to delay the start date to January of a controversial unemployment insurance law that slashes the benefits the jobless workers can receive, while businesses also had modest tax increases.

One of the consequences of North Carolina’s law is that the current July 1 start dates makes jobless workers in North Carolina ineligible for federal unemployment benefits that otherwise would have been available through the end of the year. The law passed earlier this year by the Republican-led legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory puts the state on an ambitious timetable to repay more than $2.5 billion the state owes the federal government because of money it had to borrow during the height of the recession.

While participating business will also see their taxes raised, recipients will have their benefits slashed to a maximum of $350 a week, and the amount they can collect shortened to a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks.

An estimated 170,000 people, and as much as $700 million in benefits that would be pumped into the economy are being left on the table because of the law, Hall said.

“If you’re going to help our employees, this is how we can do it,” Hall said.  Hall hopes the bill will be can pass the House before the crossover deadline.

He acknowledged getting the bill traction would be difficult, given that the bill has attracted no support from the Republicans who control both houses of the state legislature. He said planed on bringing up the issue when he met with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis Monday.

He also said he doesn’t care if Republican legislators push forward their own legislation that includes the language, as long as the delay happens.

“We don’t care if they get credit,” he said.

Speaking as well at the Monday morning press conference were Allan Freyer, a budget analyst for the Budget and Tax Center rat the N.C. Justice Center* and MaryBe McMillan of the N.C. AFL-CIO. In addition to House Bill 922, they’re hoping the legislature takes up three other bills related to worker protection before the end of crossover this week, the date that bills have to pass at least one of the legislative chambers to move forward. (Click here for more information.)

The other bills are:

  • House Bill 737, which would prevent employers from discriminating against applicants who are unemployed.
  • House Bill 815, which would stop the use of credit history in hiring practices.
  • House Bill 645, which would promote work sharing agreements that allow for reducing employees hours rather than lay-offs.

Creighton, the unemployed statistician, said he’s receiving benefits at the time, about $440 a week, but doesn’t know if changes coming to the system will leave him without anything come July.

The money he receives allows him to keep health insurance, and pay for his house. If it runs out before he finds work, he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

He points out that he’s gotten all his degrees paying in-state tuition at N.C. State University, and sees that as investment North Carolina taxpayers made in him.

He wants to begin paying that back by rejoining the work force.

“They almost wasted that money they invested in me when I’m dying to give it back to them,” he said.

The most emotional consequence of unemployment for Creighton is his inability to buy his young nieces and nephews presents for Christmas or birthdays, a reality that brings him to tears.

“It really hurts,” Creighton said. “I don’t mind that I don’t get my parents birthday gifts, or even my siblings.

“But the kids, kids are something else,” he said.

*Note: The Justice Center is a larger non-profit that advocates for low-income North Carolina and N.C. Policy Watch is a think-tank and reporting website attached to the Justice Center.

A new group, Unemployed in North Carolina, is looking to hear from jobless workers about what their job search has been like. If interested, please contact them here.

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

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