If anybody asks what 10 percent unemployment in York County looks like, it looks like despair.
Near the window at the Employment Security Commission Workforce Center in Rock Hill on Wednesday, where people by the hundreds each day shoulder through crowds to try and get a job -- and a place all must go to get unemployment benefits -- sat Jessica Batten. Next to her, boyfriend Anthony Warlick. They live together and have a 2-year-old daughter. Each is 21 years old.
In 2007, each had a job. The couple had money, two cars, paid the rent and the insurance, her college costs and everything else. They saved some. Warlick ran heavy equipment in construction -- skilled labor that paid top dollar -- until the work ran out just more than a year ago.
"I haven't worked since," Warlick said. "There isn't any work out there in construction. I even went to applying at stores, you name it. This is it for me -- my last unemployment check."
Warlick said his mother was laid off after 26 years at
one company. His father was laid off after 11 years at another.
"I know people getting laid off from those white-collar jobs, too, not just the working blue-collars," Batten said. "There isn't any office work if nobody is making things, either."
Batten is studying to get a nursing certificate and also worked full time until late last year at a used-car auction in Charlotte. That business hit the skids, and her job hit the guardrail.
"A month and a half, I haven't had any money coming in," she said. "That is after he is out of work so long. We have our own place, but we are on the verge of losing it."
The couple prioritized over months, cutting Internet service, cable television, giving up a vehicle. Like so many Wednesday, they came to this office hoping for a miracle. But even employment officials say the job market has little.
"You go somewhere and fill out an application and they either say they aren't hiring, or they have already laid off, or they just say they don't want an application because there are no jobs," Batten said. "I've applied for food stamps. I have to apply for Medicaid now."
She needs Medicaid for her 2-year-old daughter because today, Batten's health insurance runs out.
Next to them sat Jeff Kennedy, a friend of theirs who even with a college education can't find a job.
"My last unemployment check came in December," Kennedy said. "Now, nothing."
Even with their own financial crunch, Warlick and Batten are helping Kennedy.
"We can't let him fall under," Batten said. "It's times like this people have to pull together."
This example of real life and unity in tough job times happened Wednesday amid small-talk among so many at the employment office about bailed-out bankers with $30,000 toilets. Bailed-out companies with corporate jets. Politicians in suits debating how to help the rich stay afloat. Just Tuesday, South Carolina officials announced Chester County people have it worse with more than one in six people jobless. In Lancaster County, one in seven people has no job.
In York County, a shade under one in 10 people just like Batten and Warlick and Kennedy have no job. At the employment office Wednesday, all had no job.
Across the room at a table sat Eddie Acevedo, who was laid off from his job as a lead person in a warehouse. He's in his 60s.
"Thank God, my wife," Acevedo said, about somebody having a job.
At the same table sat Gerri Lacey. She filled out an application because she heard a place in Clover might be hiring. She had updated her resume at a computer there at the employment office because she couldn't afford the Internet at home anymore. After she lost her job in June at a lighting factory, plain electricity was the most she could spring for. Her husband was in a car wreck last year and is disabled.
Faith in God has gotten Lacey through, she said. Faith and all her savings.
"Everything is gone," she said. "There's been times I felt like jumping off the Catawba."
She was talking about the Catawba River bridge.
Her last job was before the holidays, in Charlotte. On Wednesday, she wrote in the box marked "experience" for the application for this Clover job that she was an "assembler and packer."
"They told me they had three weeks' work, but the work was done after two," Lacey said.
Lacey comes to the state employment office looking for jobs at least twice a week. Other times, she goes to businesses and applies directly. She earlier applied for a job as a housekeeper.
"$7.60 an hour," Lacey said, "and I hope I get it."