Davis does what she has to do to collect her meager unemployment check,
but she knows at least one requirement is a waste of time.
telling us we have to do two job searches a week,” Davis, a 69-year-old
unemployed cottage cleaner from Frisco said. “But nobody is hiring.”
qualify for weekly state unemployment benefits, an applicant must show
that at least two employers per week have been contacted – a way to
prove that an effort is being made to find work. But of course, there
are virtually no jobs to be had after Thanksgiving on the Outer Banks.
used to be that the job search requirement was at least informally
waived for seasonal Outer Banks workers. The accepted reality is the
tourism-based economy is dead in the winter until everyone starts
gearing up in March for the return of visitors.
applicants like Davis must call two of the few businesses that are
still open and ask about work. Every week, she knows what the answer
will be, but she carefully records the name of the business and what
the response was.
job search requirement is being strictly enforced as part of changes in
the state unemployment law passed last year that also slashed the
amount and number of weeks available to unemployed workers. Long-term
jobless people also lost extended benefits that had been provided by
the federal government.
who has worked for Hatteras Realty for 17 years, said that her weekly
benefit is about one-third of what she had received before the cut.
said, ‘You’re going to make $46 a week,’” Davis said, recounting her
recent phone conversation with the unemployment office in Raleigh. “And
I thought, ‘That’s not even worth messing with.’”
every little bit counts, she said. Davis added that she is allowed to
make $9 a week to supplement her benefit check without affecting the
amount. A widow for 23 years, Davis said she would not be able to make
it without her Social Security check and help from her boyfriend and
Burrus, vice-chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners and
owner of Burrus Red & White grocery store in Hatteras, said that he
gets calls at the store every day from unemployed workers looking for
work, mainly because he is one of the few businesses still open.
said that a lot of out-of-work locals who filed for benefits after New
Year’s Day have been shocked to see how little they’re going to be able
to collect. With required waiting periods and confusion about the
changes, some have yet to collect any check.
the state law that went into effect July 1, the highest weekly benefit
has been pared down to $350, from a maximum of $535. Many
seasonal workers did not earn enough to qualify for the highest amount.
The number of weeks has also been decreased from 26 to as few as 12.
financial stress on the island has “been pretty substantial,” Burrus
said, especially added to hits on family budgets from the government
shutdown and the bridge closure.
“We’ve met some people with some significant economic problems,” he said. “It hurts small businesses, too.”
unemployment in the off-season on Hatteras Island has been the way
year-round residents have been able to survive in the winter months, at
least since tourism has replaced fishing as a main source of income for
the island’s economy. The weekly unemployment checks provided a cushion
that kept the refrigerator stocked and the rent paid.
empty pockets, Burrus said, residents can’t buy anything beyond the
barest staples, and a number of them can’t even pay their bills. The
end result is that everyone in the economic spectrum suffers, but
especially the ones at the bottom.
food banks are trying to help, but there’s a limit to that,” he said.
“What’s happening is they’re eating a lot more rice and beans and
trying to make it.”
desperate finances are not limited to Hatteras Island, said Jay Burrus,
director of Dare County Department of Health and Human Services.
I’m seeing impacts from unemployment throughout the county,” he said.
“More people are coming in to us for emergency needs – rent, power
bills, medications. We have seen increases in applications for public
assistance and Medicaid services in the last three months.”
Burrus said that the department does not track the numbers by areas where they are generated in the county.
to statistics provided by the department, in November alone there was a
53 percent increase over last year in Medicaid and N.C. Health Choice
applications. In October, November and December, there was a 23 percent
total increase in applications for food and medical assistance over the
same period in 2012.
2005 and 2012, the number of applications for food assistance in Dare
County has increased 83.9 percent. In October and November, the
applications for food assistance over 2012 decreased 14 percent and 15
percent, respectively. But in December, right after most jobs dried up
in the county, the applications shot up 23 percent over December 2012.
definitely possible it could be tied to that,” Melanie Corprew, the
department’s assistant director said about the seasonal spike in
Fulcher, the director of the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men’s Food
Pantry and Emergency Assistance Program, said that he is starting to
see more requests for help.
is picking up now, yes, within the last month,” he said. “There are a
number of people who are trying to find work and can’t find it.”
July 2012 to July 2013, the group provided emergency assistance to 204
families. The food pantry was used 1,291 times, helping a total of
a debate going on in Congress about renewing the federal extension for
unemployment benefits – that expired in July in North Carolina – the
state is getting national media coverage about the impacts of cuts in
unemployment. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has
dropped from 8.8 percent to 7.4 percent, raising questions about the
effectiveness of North Carolina’s policies.
to a Jan. 21 article in the New York Times, some experts credit the big
drop to the lack of the “safety net” inspiring the jobless to looking
harder to find a job. But most economists attribute the decrease in the
state’s unemployment rate to jobless workers seeing the search as
Carolina still has nearly 350,000 listed as officially unemployed, and
many more, including those living in depressed rural areas, have given
up even looking for a job,” the article said. “For them, the safety net
is gone, and largely out of sight, countless families have slipped
deeper into poverty.”
In Dare County, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 8.4 percent.
Dare is not a poor county, much of its population is employed in the
seasonal service industry. There is a fine line between making it and
not in the off-season for many people, and when there is no work to be
had, receiving $40 in unemployment benefits a week compared with the
$200 a person used to get makes a big difference in the quality of
And this year has been especially difficult for islanders.
soon as the bridge closed, everybody closed up,” said Salvatore
Palazzolo, an owner of Nino’s Pizza in Avon. “There’s, like, two jobs.”
though most of his competition had already shut down, there were fewer
customers at his business than usual at year’s end, he said.
Nino’s closed at the end of December and will reopen in March.
who has lived here since 1981, said that employers have not only lost
business related to the closures and the weather, they’ve also been
stretched by having to pay more for property and health insurance and
by the higher cost of living. And the public perception of the island’s
risks, he worries, could impact future tourism traffic.
“It kind of scares people to come down here,” he said. “Hopefully, next year won’t be like this.”
some year-round residents are forced to leave the island because they
can’t make ends meet, it will add another burden to the employers who
have depended on reemploying the same trusted staff year after year.
of a sudden, I don’t have that person,” said Tony McGowan, owner of
Down Creek Gallery in Ocracoke. “It puts a pretty big burden on the
small businesses that rely on seasonal help.”
may have to be brought in to fill the need – even from international
markets – and the employer will have to train them. But with
unemployment checks, local workers can afford to wait out the winter
until it’s time to prepare for the tourists.
been the way of life, whether it’s right or wrong, that’s the way it’s
been,” he said. “To take that away . . . it’s going to put a lot of
people in jeopardy.'
who has run businesses on the Outer Banks for 35 years, said he has one
loyal employee who has been with him for more than nine years straight.
This year, she is going to have to rent a room in her house in order to
make ends meet.
about the trickle-down effect of that,” he said. “They don’t have the
money to spend at the grocery store. They’re loading their credit cards
with debt. It’s not a good scenario.”
said that it’s shortsighted of the state to cut off help for a seasonal
workforce that supports a huge part of the state’s robust tourism
industry. He also said it is unrealistic for policy makers to think
that jobs can be readily created on the barrier islands to employ
workers in the off-season.
“No private individual is going to come in here. I think it’s folly,” he said.
“I’d hate to think we’d have to hire foreigners because locals can’t afford to live here.”