Pinched by prices, more people join ranks of job hunters

At 40 years old, Sonya Ouzts, a stay-at-home mom, is back in the job market.

Expensive diesel fuel is biting into her husband's business so Ouzts is pounding the pavement looking for a job with benefits and a paycheck to add to her family's income.

“The economy is so bad you have to get back out there,” she said.

South Carolina's jobless rate rose to 6.5 percent in May, the highest mark since January 2006.

Those who monitor employment trends attributed that jump to people such as Ouzts, who are re-entering the job market because of economic pressure on their household budgets.

North Carolina's jobless rate rose as well, to 5.8 percent in May.

Sam McClary, labor market analyst with the S.C. Employment Security Commission, expects more people pinched by rising prices to join the hunt for jobs through the summer.


There's no end in sight for rising gas prices. And, as gas prices go up, so does everything else in a family's budget.

That forces stay-at-home moms and retirees to jump back into the pool of people hunting for jobs, sending the jobless rate up.

“It's going to be a rough summer because there's no indication of gas prices going back down,” McClary said. “I don't foresee any real change.”

Ouzts' family has three children, and she stayed home to raise them and keep the books at her husband's business.

However, that plan changed as gas prices, especially the cost of diesel, climbed higher.

Ouzts took an in-home job as a customer service representative for a Charlotte-based credit card company, but it doesn't offer an employee health insurance plan.

Now, the goal is to find a job that offers health insurance so her husband can cut that expense from his business' budget.

“Something's got to give,” she said.

Ouzts is not alone in her quest for a job. Plenty of people are changing their employment plans as the economy continues its slump.

Last week, gas prices continued to hit record highs with the average prices for regular in North Carolina at $4.04 and in South Carolina at $3.91 a gallon.

And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that food prices will increase by up to 5.5 percent this year.

Patrick Cobb, spokesman for AARP South Carolina, said retirees return to work for extra income but also for health benefits to pay for the ever-increasing cost of medicine and medical care.

“It's cutting into folks who are on fixed incomes,” Cobb said.

Already, older Americans are staying on the job longer than previous generations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those older workers are attractive to employers, Cobb said. “They have a tendency to be a little more reliable.”

Roberta Harmon, 46, sat in the waiting line Thursday at the S.C. Employment Security Commission's Columbia office with her husband.

After Harmon lost her job at a Fairfield County factory in October, she decided to stay home to care for a niece's baby.

However, money has just become too tight for her family to continue that, especially when her husband lost his job, too.

“I don't go anywhere that I don't absolutely have to,” Harmon said. “I go to doctor's appointments and to the grocery store.”