July 11, 2013
Unemployment cuts will be tough for
many workers on the Outer Banks
By CATHERINE KOZAK
around the same time people on the Outer Banks started the busiest week
of the year serving the tourist community, North Carolina’s new law on
unemployment insurance was implemented.
The law that went
into effect on July 1 reduces the cap for new claims for weekly state
unemployment insurance benefits from $535 to $350, and cuts the maximum
number of weeks of benefits from 26 weeks to as few as 12 weeks.
a move that The New York Times this week called the state’s
“cruelest decision,” a total of 70,000 people statewide had their
long-term unemployment check cut. North Carolina is the only state in
the country to choose to lose the federally-funded benefit.
And although the numbers are not huge – 137 in Dare, 84 in
Currituck, and 17 in Hyde --the folks who had been collecting federal
long-term unemployment benefits now face a substantial challenge in
Even in the midst of the summer
overdrive, some Outer Bankers are starting to worry about the
implications of the unemployment law changes come fall, when jobs here
disappear until spring.
“I don’t think he’s thinking about the
whole state,” Jane Metacarpa, an owner of Sandbar & Grille in
Buxton, said about Gov. Pat McCrory. “We’re not Raleigh. We’re not a
major city that’s got other options.
“There’s no work here in the winter,” she said. “This is going to affect every single one of us.”
old timer remembers the days before tourism, when fishing was the
mainstay of the economy, and young people routinely left to find
jobs. Since tourism took off in the 1980s, there’s so much work
in the summer months, employers have trouble getting enough workers.
reverse is true in the off-season, when employers close their
businesses or scale down dramatically. As a consequence, whatever staff
remains – nearly all year-round residents – are laid off until
Easter, when the tourists come back.
Metacarpa, who is in her 15th season, said that most employers on the Outer Banks simply can’t afford to stay open all year.
“There’s too many businesses,” she said, “and not enough people to support them.”
members of the local workforce, many of whom stay at the same job for
years, have adapted to the seasonal cycle of work-overwork-no work by
“Everybody has to save enough money to get
through the winter,” she said. “Unemployment isn’t enough (but) it
certainly helps put food on the table.”
It’s bad enough that
some individuals stand to lose nearly $200 a week in benefits, she
added, but a number of unemployed couples will be losing about $400 a
week from their household income.
“I think they’re going to see a lot of people applying for aid elsewhere,” Metacarpa said.
Burrus, owner of Burrus Red & White in Hatteras, said that local
people are not sure what to expect, and there’s much misinformation
swirling around. The bottom line is, he said, that they are worried
about how they’re going to get through the winter.
It used to
be that winter fishing and construction-related jobs would sustain the
locals when the tourists were gone, he said, but now both those
industries are struggling.
So what work can be found nowadays on the islands in the winter for unemployed people?
“When it comes down to it –nothing,” he said. “I assume that some of them will leave.”
impact would be lessened if the weather is good, he said, and people
can work through Thanksgiving. But if a tropical storm blows in,
businesses often must close early.
For example, after
Hurricane Sandy last October and Hurricane Irene in August 2011, people
had to file for unemployment weeks earlier than they usually would do.
who represents Hatteras Island on the Dare County Board of
Commissioners, said there is no ready answer to finding work in an
economy of which 80 percent is based on tourism revenue.
going to take the government stepping in and creating jobs,” he said,
as FDR did with the Civilian Conservation Corps that built dunes and
other coastal projects.
“I don’t see the private sector doing
that because there’s just not enough money out there. When you don’t
have cash flow in the winter time, it’s even more difficult.”
Currituck Outer Banks and Ocracoke Island in Hyde County also become
ghost towns in the winter, and even though the central beaches from
Kitty Hawk to Nags Head and Roanoke Island have more year-round
residents, jobs are also few and far between in the off-season.
already had people leave this area because they couldn’t find work,”
said Anne York, branch manager at Coastal Staffing Service in Kitty
Hawk. “I’m sure we’ll see more people leave this area.”
said that the only notable work that’s been available lately in the
winter months on the Outer Banks has been for general labor, which are
typically short-term projects involving strenuous physical labor.
the construction business has been recovering, she said that without a
major project or year-round industry coming in, the off-season work
situation here will likely remain dismal.
“It’s always been up and down here on the Outer Banks, “ she said, “and I don’t see that changing in the perceivable future.”
to the recent Census data and economic indicators provided by the Outer
Banks Chamber of Commerce, the top employers in Dare County are Dare
County Schools and Dare County government. Food Lion supermarket
is No. 3, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is No. 6 and
Walmart is No. 10.
Out of the 18,018-member workforce in 2011,
more than 4,300 worked in accommodation and food businesses, 3,238
worked in retail businesses, and 2,147 worked in real estate and rental
In October 2012, the seasonally adjusted
unemployment rate in the U.S was 7.9 percent. In North Carolina, it was
9.3 percent. Locally, it was 6.6 percent in Currituck County, 11.2
percent in Dare County, and 11.0 percent in Hyde County. By January,
Dare’s rate had climbed to 11.5 percent, one of the highest in the
Meanwhile, Dare County’s cost of living index in the
third quarter of 2011 –the last available figure – was 109, with the
U.S. average at 100. At the same time, Raleigh’s index was 93.3;
Durham, 90.6, and Charlotte, 92.6. What that means is that it costs
more for food, housing and medical care in Dare County than urban areas
in the state.
The main purpose behind the change in the
state unemployment law is to create sustainable long-term job growth
throughout the state, said Josh Ellis, a spokesman for the state
Department of Commerce, which oversees the workforce and unemployment
The offices’ roles have recently been
divided between jobs and insurance. For instance, what used to be
the state Employment Security Commission office in Nags Head is now
called the Dare County Career Center. The sole “unemployment office” on
the Outer Banks can now assist people only in finding jobs and no
longer deals with unemployment insurance. The renamed state
Division of Employment Security is available to assist people with
unemployment insurance issues.
Staff at the state Department
of Social Services and the College of The Albemarle are also available
to assist with unemployment concerns.
long-term federal benefit will pay down the $2.6 billion debt employers
owe the federal government by 2015 instead of 2018, Ellis said.
“By eliminating it,” he said, “we believe that will put employers in a better place to hire folks.”
average time people collect state benefits is 18 weeks, Ellis said, but
with North Carolina’s recent unemployment rate of 8.8 percent being the
fifth highest in the nation, some workers have collected benefits as
long as 73 weeks. Much of the state, he said, has not seen economic
growth since 2008.
“Generally speaking, we’re trying to put
all of North Carolina to where working a few months a year and
collecting unemployment for the remainder of the year is not the only
option that’s out there,” Ellis said. “This is not a decision that was
made lightly, and I am totally empathetic with folks. This is our best
long-term approach to sustainable job growth.”
Ellis said that the state’s economic development plan will not be one-size-fits-all.
will be a strategic approach to it,” he said. “But what works in Wake
County will not work in Dare County. You cannot use the same template
in every part of the state.”
Some ideas for job development in
the northeast, he said, could include connecting to Norfolk’s port
resources to foster export markets for North Carolina products.
“It’s just time to take a fresh look at economic development,” Ellis said.
the state policy makers imagine the answer is for people looking for
work, Metacarpa said the unemployment law change is going to do
anything but help the people working for a living on the Outer Banks.
“We already have so many obstacles,” she said. “We need this like a hole in the head.”
DETAILS OF THE NEW LAW
are some details about the state unemployment law based on information
from the Division of Employment Security and House Bill 4.
- Changes impact only claims filed after June 30, 2013.
- Everyone who files for unemployment insurance has to search for work unless the work search provision has been waived.
- Applicants for unemployment insurance must be able, available and looking for work –same as previous law.
maximum amount of benefit weeks is 20 instead of 26. The number
of weeks will be predicated on the seasonally adjusted state – not
county -- unemployment rate. For a base period that begins
July 1, the rate for April would apply. For a state rate of less
than or equal to 5.5 percent, the range is a minimum of five weeks and
a maximum of 12 weeks. For a state rate of greater than 9 percent, the
range is a minimum of 13 weeks and a maximum of 20 weeks.
- Part-time workers are expected to accept available full-time jobs.
the 10th week of unemployment, any job offer paying 120 percent of the
individual’s weekly benefit amount will be considered suitable work.
- Earnings allowance for new claims will be capped at 20 percent of the weekly benefit amount.
claims – when an employer files for the employee with the intention of
bringing them back to work – now have new requirements:
--Employers with a negative balance must have a zero balance before the claim can be submitted.
--The full amount of the benefits to be paid the employee must be paid in full upfront.
--Only one claim per employee per benefit year may be filed
--The period of attached unemployment may not exceed six consecutive weeks.
--If an employee has a weekly benefit amount established prior to June
30, the weekly benefit amount will not change.
--A one-week waiting period must be served for any attached claim filed after June 30.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Here’s the link to the unemployment law: