Laid off and learning about their 'skill set'

The quiet lobby during the lunch hour Monday had more than 30 people in it. The few sounds were clerks calling out names and the shuffle of feet toward desks where hope sits. And sighs.

They were men and women, young and old, black and white. Some looked straight ahead. Some looked down. They share at least one thing in common.

They looked for a job because they don't have one.

Technically this place is the Rock Hill Workforce Center of the S.C. Employment Security Commission. Yeah, I can see somebody telling their wife as they wonder if the mortgage is going to get paid or if the furniture is going to be tossed into the street: "I'm going to the Workforce Center."

Regular people forever call it the unemployment office.

If you are one of 540 people who work at Leiner Health Products in Fort Mill, the words you will use now or soon are "laid off."

"That means your job doesn't exist anymore," said Annie Reid, the area director at the office.

Leiner announced last week those jobs now, or soon, will no longer exist.

Leiner makes and distributes over-the-counter medication, vitamins and supplements. It opened near the state line in Fort Mill Township in 1998. York County politicians and economic development people hailed the place.

I saw no politicians in line Monday for jobs.

Yet, one former employee said Thursday in the quote of the year: "Eight years shot to hell."

State commerce department and employment officials are already working with Leiner and its employees, Reid said.

One lady who works or worked at Leiner came in while I was there. She didn't want to talk to me.

Can't blame her. She likely has kids and bigger things on her mind.

Like the rent.

Finding a job is about matching a skill set to what's available, Reid said. Skill set is translated as, "What can you do for me, Jack?"

Many workers at Leiner probably know how to operate and maintain machinery, handle inventory and labeling and work warehouse jobs, Reid said.

But packaging jobs are not that prevalent right now, she said.

So people who know how to operate computers tapped keys Monday at the unemployment office. Those who didn't thumbed through binders. They saw job openings for building trades, food service, clerk jobs and a couple of engineering spots. A bunch for the U.S. Army. Garage door installer, forklift mechanic, meat cutter, lathe operator, machinist, truck driver and more.

News of the Leiner layoffs has reached all the way to the state's top job person. The chairman of the commissioners for employment security is Becky Meacham-Richardson, who represented Fort Mill for years in the Legislature. Meacham-Richardson vowed Monday to make sure that the state's employment agency does all it can for those people who worked at Leiner.

Stats that matter

I don't like statistics but here's some that matter: York County's jobless rate in April was 5.3 percent. The state's rate was 5.8 percent. Tied with Alaska for third worst in the country.

Also on Monday, the governor announced cheaper insurance rates for people with beach houses.

"You got any jobs where you're at?" one lady asked me at the unemployment office.

I had on a tie, carried a notebook and pencil, so I must have jobs, right? No.

Another guy said he was hoping to get his General Equivalency Diploma so he could get a job.

"I heard that's better than a diploma, the people know you are serious," he told me.

In South Carolina, people can get severance packages and receive unemployment insurance benefits at the same time, Reid said.

In general, if a person works five straight quarters, a year and a quarter, then the person is eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance up to half of what that person made while working, Reid said.

Yet the maximum anyone in South Carolina can receive in unemployment is $303 a week, Reid said. Take out 17 percent for federal and state taxes and what you have is $252 a week.

The rent or mortgage, the insurance, the gasoline, the car note, the light bill, the groceries.

On $252 a week.