Andrew Dys

Campaign speeches over in SC, but the unemployed still desperate

No politician who claimed to be "for the working man," as so many rich in all parties have claimed the past two weeks, was at the unemployment office in Chester or Rock Hill on Wednesday.

The only people there were working men and women, almost all of whom are not working because all these jobs that politicians claim to have created - or will create, or would create - are as elusive as ghosts.

Rich politicians either are in office or make money from speaking fees and consulting and serving on boards after leaving office, or make money because they have influence and connections after leaving office, or on investments.

When unemployed, these politicians often make far more money than when they were employed.

Real people when unemployed beg the bank not to put a steel lock on the front door as they walk out to seek a job.

David Casavant, 45, of Chester, a delivery driver whose employer went belly-up more than three years ago, has made it through on part-time jobs working nights in a motel as he earned his commercial driver's license so he could get a job driving a big rig.

"Every time I try, I come up empty," said Casavant.

So Casavant, less than 12 hours after President Barack Obama, a Democrat, told America he was the man for jobs, tried again on Wednesday.

He tried again less than a week after Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, told South Carolina she was the jobs lady, and after all four Republican presidential candidates said statewide in the past two weeks at big events - but sure not in Chester - that each was the job man.

Casavant on Wednesday headed into the S.C. Works Office. That is the six-months' new, fancy name for what regular people call the unemployment office. It is where claims are filed and jobs sought.

It used to be called the workforce center and before that the employment commission.

Most times Casavant checks jobs and applies online - many employers only take applications that way these days, as if a job-seeker with the guts to show up might bite. Other times he comes in to check the job listings as one might be on a posted sheet.

People who work, or try to, call the office, "unemployment." As in; "I went to unemployment today." Casavant - long past getting unemployment benefits after his ran out - left the center with sheets for one truck driving job and one chance to work at a rental center.

"Everybody here just wants a chance," Casavant said. "We want jobs. I will try for these. Any application is a chance to get a job."

Chester, a place of hard-working people as long as people have worked in this region, has about 15 percent unemployment - almost as bad as any place in the state or the nation.

Casavant left and a guy sat down named Robert Melton. Melton is a welder and structural fitter, a blue-collar job in an industry decimated by the terrible economy that politicians of both parties talk about but never see up close.

Melton, 42, sat in at no political speeches, was invited to none. Melton since August has been an unemployed welder and fitter.

"Thankfully, I still draw (unemployment) benefits," said Melton, holding his unemployment benefits booklet that proves he is seeking work. "But I gotta find something."

Melton spoke of how the holidays "wasn't much of a Christmas" for his wife and daughter, and how his wife babysits to make extra money.

Robert Melton has no health insurance or any other benefits, either. He said this in an unemployment office after a millionaire president talked about jobs, after a governor talked about jobs, and rich candidates who call $25,000-a-month lobbying fees and $374,000-a-year in speaking fees chump change.

"I didn't vote in the primary," said Melton, who worked in a steel plant, then in construction, until work dried up. "I didn't pay attention to the governor. I missed the State of the Union. I was looking for work."

Melton left in a pickup, with his hope and workingman's callused hands, as politicians move on to other important events in private planes, nursing paper cuts from opening envelopes containing donation checks.

Out the door came Chastity Spears, 28, a mother of two children, ages 3 and 4. She worked at Walmart before graduating from Chester High School, then at a fast-food restaurant, then on an assembly line in a factory, until she started a family when she was 24.

The assembly line closed down and her job went with it.

She attended technical college too, with hopes that she can become a medical lab technician.

"I always worked," Spears said. "Always."

Until now. Spears came to the office to make copies of her resume, so she might find work soon as far away as Rock Hill or Charlotte. She listened to the politicians the last two weeks talk about jobs, but hasn't voiced many opinions because, "I don't have a job and didn't think I mattered."

That's how far politics has fallen away from the people it is supposed to serve - proud people who always worked are unsure of their importance.

Chastity Spears, mother, worker all her life, student, sure seems a lot more important than any politician of any party.

"Where are those jobs?" asked Spears, when prodded, about politicians bragging about jobs being Job 1.

Certainly things would be better at the S.C. Works office in York County, which is almost 10 times bigger by population than Chester County.

Not much. York County's unemployment is more than 12 percent.

The line at the office stretched like a snake.

Near the front, Shirlita Carter, 51, almost 30 years in administrative jobs with excellent computer skills, said the economy tanked and her job left and there she was Wednesday, in the unemployment line.

"I have computer skills, work history, but who is going to hire a 51-year-old woman?" she asked. "Nobody, at a living wage. No politician mentions us."

Dessie Blackwood of York, who always worked in factories and plants in York, said, "I'm also 51. I have skills. I have a work history. My job went away. I always worked. Always."

Blackwood has followed the politics lately, but she followed most closely how the governor decided to cut unemployment benefits by 17 weeks. The governor gets applause from politicians for that, but from Dessie Blackwood of York, who has worked all her life, there are no cheers.

"Unemployment is the highest in my lifetime, and this is how the politicians do us," said Blackwood.

Political speeches were not heard by Jesse Jacobs of Fort Mill, either. Jacobs owned his own masonry company that has withered with construction grinding to a halt. He's a third-generation bricklayer who owes on equipment, a work truck, and more.

Back in Chester, Matthew McMillan 24, whose seasonal Christmas job ended a couple of weeks ago, rode a bicycle miles to seek a job at that unemployment office Wednesday. He arrived, his face pink-red from the cold wind.

"I will shovel manure; I will clean sewers," McMillan said. "I listen to these politicians. They keep saying they are bringing jobs to South Carolina, or they will. I looked. Where are those jobs again?"

McMillan rode off, on that bicycle into a stiff wind that pushed back at him, as somewhere, jet planes carrying politicians on the way to talk about jobs somewhere broke the sound barrier.