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The job search: 3 stories

Back to school for a new degree

Potential employers told Eddrena Morris that she needed a degree, so she went back to school.

“That’ll give them one less excuse not to hire me,” she said of her expected degree in graphic design from Central Piedmont Community College come January.

After losing her marketing job at Time Warner Cable in February 2012, Morris has sent a flurry of resumes and phone calls to employers in the Charlotte area. She’s had few interviews and no luck.

In the meantime, she’s lived off her soon-to-end unemployment benefits since exhausting her severance package last summer.

She quickly changed her lifestyle, she said. Gone were the annual trips to Jamaica and her penchant for expensive clothes. Instead, she used the last of her severance to pay off her PT Cruiser. Now she’s struggling to buy groceries and hasn’t had the cash for her stomach medication in months.

But Morris considers herself lucky. She doesn’t have any dependents – her son Marcus, 22, works for US Airways and lives on his own.

“I don’t know what the people with kids to take care of are going to do,” she said. “I can take care of myself.”

Frustrated with the job market, Morris said she’s planning on going into business for herself if she doesn’t hear back by the end of the month.

She used money from her severance package to purchase a $450 heat press that prints graphics on T-shirts. She sold a few at the Democratic National Convention last fall – white, cotton T’s with Barack Obama’s face on the center – and hopes to start printing shirts with her self-designed graphics once she finishes at CPCC. She’s also pursuing a certificate in event planning.

“I don’t stay down,” she said. “Not for long.” Dan Burley

No luck, even with years of experience

With 15 years IT experience, William Phillip figured he’d be a quick hire.

Phillip, 36, graduated with an advanced degree from Hofstra University and worked in New York City and Atlanta before moving to Charlotte to live with his girlfriend two years ago.

He secured a job working in information technology in Bank of America’s risk management department, where he was let go last August.

So far his hunt to get back into the workforce hasn’t borne fruit.

He’s sent his resume to countless employers online, into the “black hole” of the Internet, he said, where it’s rare to receive confirmation that a headhunter sees the application, much less a response.

He’s applied for hourly wage jobs, like at Best Buy, and for jobs paying half of what he was making.

He removed nearly a decade of experience from his resume to prevent some prospective employers from turning him away as overqualified.

Phillip scours the Web daily. He’s interviewed for positions in Greensboro and California, and applied to work in foreign countries. Most are contractor positions that don’t offer benefits, he said.

Still, he said he’s heard nothing but “crickets.”

He scrapes together enough money through federal unemployment benefits to pay his monthly car payment, and relies on his girlfriend, who has a job, to cover rent and utilities.

They’ve put their engagement on hold, waiting for Phillip to solve the surly job market.

“We were talking about it the other day, and I told her I’d leave town to find work,” he said. “I can’t let my better half cover for me.”

Like 70,000 North Carolinians, his federal unemployment benefits end June 30. With the deadline looming, Phillip said he lies awake most nights, “wondering what I haven’t done yet.” Dan Burley

Running out of time

Connie Kilcoyne feels like she’s running out of options.

When her federal extended unemployment benefits are cut off next month, she’ll lose $393 a week in income. After taxes, she was receiving $334 in benefits – less than half of what she was making at her last job.

“I can’t retire. I’m not old enough,” said Kilcoyne, 54. “I don’t qualify for any other programs. I don’t have a husband...I have to start selling stuff.”

Unable to find work since losing her job as an assistant insurance underwriter in March 2012, Kilcoyne said she’s been living off her retirement savings and unemployment payments.

“Right now I’m wiping out my 401(k), which I’m lucky I have,” she said. “Some people don’t.”

“I took $20,000 out of it last year, and $4,000 goes to federal (taxes), another $800 goes to state,” she said. “You’ve got the 10 percent (early withdrawal) penalty – there’s another $2,000 before you even get any of it.”

That money helps pay for her health insurance, which, because of a pre-existing condition, comes out to more than $500 a month. After her COBRA continuing coverage runs out in September, she doesn’t know where she’ll turn.

She displays certifications she’s earned since then – as a forklift operator, a flexography printer, different insurance licenses – but none have led to a job. She has three 3-inch binders full of paperwork from her job search sitting next to her couch and the laptop where she browses online job postings.

In addition to her house in northeast Charlotte, Kilcoyne has a small house in Asheville that she bought 30 years ago.

Right now, she’s paying interest only on her Charlotte mortgage, and she’s contemplated selling that house and moving to the Asheville home, which is paid off.

Even if she does that, she doesn’t think she can make a profit, because the Charlotte house requires repairs.

And even with a paid-off house, Kilcoyne still doesn’t know where she’ll get the money to pay property taxes and utilities.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I’m applying everywhere and anywhere I can.”

She plans to apply for food stamps when the extended unemployment is cut off. Kilcoyne fears she’ll end up stuck in a minimum-wage job she’s overqualified for – if she’s lucky enough to get one – and still be barely able to pay her bills.

“How am I going to keep on paying for any of this?” Kilcoyne asked. Ely Portillo

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