Rowan’s 9.3 percent unemployment rate likely to rise

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
David Poteat once worked on million-dollar F-14 jets as a maintenance engineer in the Navy.
Now he can’t even get a job as a dishwasher at the new Olive Garden restaurant.
The frustration for Poteat and the thousands of others who are unemployed in Rowan County continues to build in what many are finding to be a tough, almost non-existent job market.
And the numbers entering that job market keep growing.
Rowan County’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.3 percent in December, according to figures released by the Employment Security Commission Friday.
The news looks to be worse in the months ahead.
Debbie Davis, head of the Employment Security Commission’s JobLink Career Center in Salisbury, said unemployment insurance benefits paid out in Rowan County in December were $3.17 million, but that amount increased to $4.3 million in January.
This month, Performance Fibers announced a 20 percent workforce reduction at its plant on U.S. 70, Food Lion’s headquarters in Salisbury laid off 80 people.
Carter Chair in Salisbury shut down its long established operation, affecting 70-plus employees.
And Freightliner and Auto Truck Transport, both located in Cleveland, announced significant layoffs that will take effect in March and lay off close to 1,400 people.
The Employment Security Commission classified 6,758 people as unemployed and receiving unemployment insurance benefits in Rowan County in December.
North Carolina had an overall unemployment rate of 8.5 percent in December, the highest state rate in 25 years.
Since being laid off at a local machine shop last October, the 41-year-old Poteat has routinely spent his weekday afternoons on the computer at the JobLink Center on South Main Street in Salisbury.
“I’m up here every day, for about two hours a day,” Poteat said Friday afternoon.
He has sent out 150 resumés and filled out countless applications. Only once in the past three months has Poteat been offered an interview ó and that was in western Iowa.
The job involved climbing towers 100 and 200 feet high. In talking with the man who offered him an interview, Poteat learned his 300-pound frame would prevent him from crawling up the towers, so he never made the trip.
Poteat said he would even consider going back into the military, if he could pass the weight requirements.
“But that may not be happening,” he said.
Poteat routinely is on Web sites such as Monster.com, Military.com and CareerBuilders.com.
“I’ve started looking in five states,” he said, but he would rather not leave this immediate area where his 6-year-old son is.
The most frustrating thing for Poteat is never hearing back from the companies to which he has applied. S&D Coffee in Concord has advertised for a mechanic for three months, he said.
Poteat said he has sent in three different applications without hearing back ó and that’s the way it is with all other companies.
“I can’t get a call back or an interview,” Poteat said. “It’s real frustrating out here right now.”
Victoria Patterson of Salisbury has come across the same frustration.
Her last job, which ended Nov. 4, was as a relief rural carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. She essentially worked one day a week, substituting on a regular route. Wanting to build on her years in the military, Patterson thought she would be working more days in the postal carrier’s job, but it never happened.
“Of course, no one can work like that (and make a living),” Patterson said Friday at the JobLink Center.
Patterson, 49, was a U.S. Army medic for six years, then lived many years in Washington, D.C., as a corporate legal assistant.
She moved back to her native Rowan County in 2007.
Patterson has been concentrating her job search in state and federal courts and in the federal government. She is willing to commute or move to another city or state.
“It doesn’t matter because I have to get a job,” Patterson said.
In trying to find a court-related job, Patterson said she runs into a lot of nepotism. “It’s not what you know but who you know,” she said.
She also fears that her past jobs and salaries may scare away potential employers.
“If they’ll just ask, I’ll work for whatever they offer,” she said.
The computer time and paperwork involved in job searching is considerable, Patterson and Poteat said. They both praised the assistance they receive as military veterans from the JobLink Center’s specialists.
“It’s a job looking for a job,” Patterson said. “I’m not going to be discouraged.”
Unemployment rates increased in December in 97 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Rowan’s rate was 8.6 percent in November.
Here are the December jobless rates in counties touching Rowan and the change since the November report:
– Cabarrus ó 8.5 percent, up from 7.7 percent.
– Davidson ó 9.7 percent, up from 9.2 percent.
– Davie ó 8.3 percent, up from 8 percent.
– Iredell ó 9.2 percent, up from 8.1 percent.
– Stanly ó 9.5 percent, up from 8.8 percent.

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