On the first business day of 2009, the Employment Security Commission office in Rock Hill was open. Friday broke with a line out to the parking lot, just like the line each day the place has been open since before Thanksgiving.
But this is a new year. People like Brenda Neal, laid off from her automotive industry job in Fort Mill when car sales hit the skids, said she's heard countless times from prospective employers something along the lines of, "Try us after the new year."
Well, here was Neal on Friday, the year new and her resolve undaunted. She was right there at a computer terminal with her niece, a resumé fresh and updated on lovely golden and bronze textured paper so it, and she, would stand out above all others.
Brenda and LaToya Neal looked for anything that paid.
"I have been to motels, restaurants, stores," Neal said. "I've filled out applications online. There's nothing."
The employment office inside was gloomy, regard less of the weather outside, because this is where people go to find jobs that don't seem to exist.
South Carolina's unemployment rate is 8.4 percent, third-worst in America. York County's rate in November was 8.2 percent, Chester was 13.5, Lancaster was 12.2. December will be worse when numbers come out in a couple of weeks.
I hate statistics because people such as governors -- Mark Sanford right here in South Carolina who threatened to hold back getting federal money to pay for unemployment benefits just so he could get a better peek at the employment commission's books -- and other rich people use statistics to try to make the unemployed, the broke, easier to look at.
But those statistics have faces.
Danny Earney's face is this economy. Tough and sad at the same time. A skilled heating and air-conditioning guy for 18 years, Earney made a good living until four months ago, when he was laid off. Without unemployment money, he's in line at a soup kitchen.
"Nobody's building, there's nothin'," Earney said.
His sister's boyfriend, Charles Hollenbeck, was right there with Earney looking for anything with a paycheck attached. Hollenbeck was laid off from his electrician helper's job in August. Up walked a guy named Ricky McMurray, who waited months to get an assembly line job at Freightliner across the border in Gaston County, N.C.
"I was there three days, and they laid us all off," McMurray said.
McMurray is taking cooking classes and has applied for a job on a cruise ship.
Until employers are willing to pull the trigger and hire in an economy that has businesses nervous, hiring will not improve, said Annie Reid, area director of the Employment Security Commission's Rock Hill office. Reid's office is so busy assisting the new jobless and the still jobless, that Reid herself is handling clients alongside her workers.
Reid keeps a box of tissues right there behind her desk. Most of the employees have tissues within arm's length. Not for colds, though, but for strangers without hope, crying over not being able to find a job. Those employees Friday sat there, listened and helped when it didn't seem there was any help.
These workers graciously talked to mothers who had jobs but now don't have food to feed their children. Men who walked to look for a job because cars were repossessed.
"This is the worst in a long time," Reid said of the job market.
There are some jobs to be had. Machine operator, a few others -- "The census is hiring," Reid said -- and some highly technical jobs in health care and other fields. But overall, brutal.
"Skilled people, people who have never been unemployed, are coming in," Reid said. "Some people are desperate."
Yet, Friday in that office, real people showed they are always better than politicians. After hours searching one of those employment databases, applying online to use her customer service experience, Nica Ellis grabbed her coat and got ready to go back to her life as a 20-year-old woman without a job.
"I'm frustrated," said this young lady who just wants to work. "The economy is bad. So many places, people said come back the first of the year. Well, it's the first of the year, and I'm here again."
Another lady, sitting at the next computer, told Ellis to try one other place on the computer. Ellis did. Some customer service jobs with Wells Fargo were just posted Friday for the Fort Mill office.
I do not know if Ellis will get one of those jobs. If she does, she might take that job from that lady who was sitting next to her applying for the same job.
But that lady just smiled and told Ellis, "Good luck to you. I hope you get a job."