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NC Policy Watch: Facing the Unemployment Cliff

By Sarah Ovaska of North Carolina Policy Watch

July 24, 2013. With only a week left of unemployment benefits, Yvette Jocelyn expects to be evicted soon from the Cary rental home she and her 12-year-old son live in.

She has no nearby family to move in with and doesn’t know where they will live if she can’t find an employer willing to hire her.

“I told him that if I don’t get a job in the next couple of weeks, we’ll have to move,” she said, referring to her son. “But I have nowhere to go.”

Yvette Jocelyn with her 12-year-old son. Photo by Ricky Leung
Yvette Jocelyn with her 12-year-old son. Photo by Ricky Leung

Jocelyn had been getting $282 in weekly unemployment benefits since January, when she was laid off from a job collecting on medical bills in a doctor’s office. She estimates she’s applied to more than 500 jobs since then, with no offers of employment.

Next week, she will join more than 70,000 thousand other North Carolinians kicked off unemployment rolls this summer because of a state law that prevents federal unemployment benefits from flowing through to the longterm unemployed.

The state legislature revamped the state’s unemployment system this year by, in part, cutting the maximum amount a person can collect from $535 to $350, cutting back on the number of weeks people can collect unemployment and slightly raising the amounts that businesses pay into the system. The changes made the state ineligible for more than $700 million in federal money intended to be used through the end of the year as extended unemployment benefits.

The changes were necessary, supporters of the bill said, to pay off more than $2.5 billion borrowed during the height of the recession to pay out benefits.

But opponents said the changes placed most of the burden on unemployed workers already challenged to find replacement work in a state with an 8.8 percent unemployment rate, the fifth-highest in the nation.

Nearly 70,000 were immediately cutoff from benefits on July 1, the start date of the new law, though the federal labor department expects 100,000 additional people to be affected by year’s end as they exhausted their state-provided unemployment benefits. North Carolina is the only state to reject the federal money.

Jocelyn, 47, said she’s applied to more than 500 different jobs since being laid off in January with few interviews and no job offers. Her working background has primarily been in the non-profit field working with those in crises — the homeless, domestic violence victims, and substance abusers.

She can’t find a job in those fields, and says she has been turned down for waitressing positions because of a lack of experience.

“The non-profit jobs are pretty much nonexistent right now,” she said. “I’m applying for everything because I’m desperate.”

The stress is wearing on Antonio as well, a quiet rising 7th-grader who plays basketball, trombone and made good grades this year in school despite the pressures at home.

He doesn’t talk with many of his friends about his family’s worries, except for his best friend whose mother is also unemployed and looking for work. He worries about what will happen if his mother doesn’t find work soon. [Read more…]