Jobless look for hope in bleak economy
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — As President Barack Obama travels the country to promote his job creation plan, unemployed local residents are still struggling.
Nearly three years ago, Spencer resident Kevin Gaines was laid off from his job in production support for Phillip Morris. He’s still looking for work.
Gaines said his unemployment insurance check is the only thing keeping him from losing his home, and it will stop coming in January without an extension.
“It’s to pay your mortgage, it’s to pay your light bill, it’s to buy some food and things like that,” he said. “It really, truly is a necessity for 7 million people in the United States.”
Emergency unemployment benefits would be extended for another year under Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan, unveiled last week in a speech to Congress.
He will speak about the plan today at North Carolina State University’s Reynolds Coliseum. Tickets are available both to NCSU students and the general public for the event on a first-come, first-served basis.
Under Obama’s jobs plan, companies would get a $4,000 tax break for hiring people who have been unemployed for more than six months.
As of August, the government says, 43 percent of unemployed Americans — like Gaines — have been out of work for six months or more.
When Gaines was laid off, he heard that taking job skills classes could give him an advantage over other unemployed job seekers.
Through local community colleges and Goodwill’s Career Connections Center, he has now earned certificates in career readiness, leadership development, introduction to computers and computer empowerment.
But Gaines still can’t find a job.
“I was led to believe the career readiness certificate was going to make a difference,” he said.
Gaines said he thinks has submitted more than 300 different applications online and in person. He didn’t limit himself to open positions.
“Everywhere I go, I stop and ask my friends, my family and people working in the stores, ‘Are you taking applications? Are you doing any hiring?’ ” he said. “I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door anywhere, but a lot of companies are just not hiring.”
Businesses that do have jobs to fill often have a flood of applications to wade through. So far this year, Rowan County’s unemployment rate has hovered between 10.8 percent and 12 percent. The latest number was 11.8 percent in July.
Gaines said he has been interviewed a few times but felt like his application was “moved aside in a pile.” A three-year lapse in work history doesn’t look good on a resume, he said, but it might help if companies have a tax incentive to look past it.
Debbie Davis, manager of the N.C. Employment Security Commission (ESC) office in Rowan County, said her agency offers help to the unemployed, even when they can no longer receive benefits.
“If they exhaust everything, we will continue to work with them to find employment and refer them to other agencies,” Davis said.
She said the ESC will pay for displaced workers and low-income job seekers to train for certain occupations. Instead of single classes like the ones Gaines took, these are programs for careers like certified nursing assisting, radiography, tractor-trailer truck driving, welding and fire protection.
The next information session about the program is at 2 p.m. today at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, 1333 Jake Alexander Boulevard, Building 400, Room 4204.
Another session will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, at the Rowan County Agricultural Center at 2727 Old Concord Road. Sessions may last two hours.
“It’s not going to guarantee they’ll get a job, but hopefully the skills will make them more marketable to employers,” Davis said.
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Some economists predict the White House plan would put hundreds of thousands of people back to work next year, mainly because a Social Security tax cut for workers would be deepened and extended to small businesses.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, estimates that the president’s plan would boost economic growth by 2 percentage points, add 2 million jobs and reduce unemployment by a full percentage point next year compared with existing law.
Susan Wachter, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, figures that the Social Security tax cuts alone would add 1 percentage point to economic growth and create 1 million jobs next year.
The plan also would ramp up spending on public works projects and provide aid to keep state and local governments from laying off teachers. Obama would pay for his program with future budget cuts.
The government also would raise about $405 billion by eliminating certain deductions, including on charitable contributions, that can be claimed by wealthy taxpayers.
The president’s plan will likely face resistance in Congress. Republicans have opposed tax increases and further spending, and they have pushed to reduce the budget and shrink the government.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
President Barack Obama’s proposed jobs plan would:
• Renew the Social Security tax cut for a year and deepen it, lowering the taxes for workers from 4.2 percent to 3.1 percent. Before the tax cut, the rate was 6.2 percent.
• Halve Social Security taxes for businesses on the first $5 million of their payroll. The White House says 98 percent of U.S. businesses have payrolls below that threshold.
• Give a tax cut of $1,550 to taxpayers earning $50,000 a year.
Social Security tax is imposed on the first $106,800 of taxable income, so the maximum savings would be about $3,300 for an individual and $6,600 for a couple.
• Extend emergency unemployment benefits for another year.
• Put $30 billion to modernize schools, $50 billion for road and bridge projects and a bank that would finance more public works projects.
The plan’s $447 billion cost would be paid for with
• $405 billion from limiting itemized deductions, including those for charitable contributions, that can be taken by individuals making over $200,000 a year and families making over $250,000 annually.
• $41 billion from closing loopholes for oil and gas companies.
• $18 billion from requiring fund managers to pay higher taxes on certain income.
• $3 billion from changing the tax treatment of corporate jets.