N.C. loses more jobs than any other state
By Peter Whoriskey
The Washington Post
HICKORY ó Since 2002, the Labor Department has certified more than 90,000 jobs in North Carolina as lost because of foreign competition ó more than in any other state.
Such a certification, made when federal investigators find that a job loss was caused by imports or the transfer of an American plant overseas, means that the affected worker is eligible for trade adjustment benefits.
In Hickory, the heart of the afflicted region, workers enrolled in programs at Catawba Valley Community College and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute said they welcome the retraining opportunity.
They are taking courses in accounting, air conditioning, landscape design, nursing, medical technology and other fields in which there is perceived demand.
Some workers have prospered after the training, or expect to, though for now the recession has dulled their prospects. But the program has done little to mitigate the anger many feel for the North American Free Trade Agreement and other such pacts.
Thomas Stinnett, 43, was laid off from a truck factory earlier this year after the company started production in Saltillo, Mexico. He looked around for another job but was unwilling to work for half his old wages.
“At my age, I didn’t want to go back to school,” he said. “But I looked around and everything was $8, $9, $10 an hour. I said, ‘Hell, I’m worth more than that.’ ”
He’s now in a two-year degree program and plans to get a job in law enforcement. Since the unemployment payments aren’t enough to get by on, he told his wife, a stay-at-home mom, she’d have to get a job. She’s managing a Subway sandwich shop.
“I wish they’d just flush the whole NAFTA idea and tell all the other countries the heck with you,” he said.
The program pulls into school people who might otherwise have given up on their education, but for many, “it’s not an easy transition,” said Garrett Hinshaw, president of Catawba Valley Community College. “You’re taking someone who has been working for 25 years and saying, `You can’t do that anymore.’ ”
Many left high school decades ago and must take remedial classes in English or algebra, extending the length of their studies. Others feel forced to make quick decisions about what their next career should be because of the program’s time limits.
“You choose a field because you are desperate for a program,” said Lisa Adams, 47, who lost her job at a fiber-optics plant and then earned an associate’s degree in health-care management. “I thought I would go into nuclear medicine. But you’re herded like cows. People are corralled into careers.”
These days, she says, she gets up at 5 a.m. to search Web sites for jobs, then searches again in the afternoon and then again before she goes to bed. Her husband, also laid off from the fiber-optics plant because of foreign competition, is also enrolled in TAA classes.
“We don’t want to lose our home,” she said. “I’m just not seeing where the jobs are.”