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If you travel early mornings on White Street during the work week, you can see them. Dawn has barely faded and they’re already lined up, waiting for the doors to open to the S.C. Employment Security Commission.
They’re either applying for unemployment benefits, workforce training, looking for a job or all three. While the national unemployment rates hovers around 9.1 percent, Lancaster figures a little more than 15 percent. There are about 77,000 people in Lancaster County. Of those who want to work, about 5,000 can’t find jobs. While the reasons vary, the most obvious is lack of jobs.
What is more obvious is people do want to work. Recent evidence proves that theory. On Sept. 28, a line snaked around the BB&T building as jobseekers waited to apply for job openings at Dollar General. The store was conducting a job fair in one of the bank’s conference rooms.
Just a few days later, almost 1,000 people attended a job fair held at the Adult Education Campus at the old Barr Street High School.
The purpose of that job fair, sponsored by the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. (LDEDC) and Lancaster County Workforce Action Team (WAT), was for unemployed workers to meet companies that are hiring in the region, while collecting their information into a job seeker database.
More than 200 people were waiting for the doors to open at 10 a.m. While jobseekers got an opportunity to meet company representatives about potential job openings, one big reason for the job fair was to convince a call center considering locating to Lancaster County that there is a quality workforce here.
Several local officials volunteered to help with the nine-hour job fair. It was an eye-opening experience for some of them.
“Not only does this job fair show we still have work to do, but it reaffirms the council’s primary goal to recruit jobs, train and retrain workers,” said Lancaster County Council Chairwoman Kathy Sistare. “Citizens can expect that to be our commitment this year, and years to come until we get everyone a job who wants and needs a job.”
County Councilwoman Charlene McGriff was surprised by the turnout.
“I knew we had a problem with unemployment, but I never expected to see 1,000 people show up,” McGriff said. “I hope we can continue with more job fairs and get citizens back to work.”
So do we. It is a very frustrating time, not only here, but across the nation as the unemployed and underemployed struggle for the basic necessities in life.
And the future looks bleak. America is in a ditch and can’t climb out of it, according to some think-tank spokespersons. Discord across the nation is seen in the Occupy Wall Street movement, as participants protest corporate greed. Protesters contend the stagnant economy impacts the “99 percent” who struggle daily for housing, food, clothing and medical care, while the 1 percent who control the vast majority of wealth continue to prosper.
Let’s face it, economic recruiting is a competitive business – one that pits counties against counties and states against states.
We hope the huge turnout for the job fair convinces the call center that there is a viable workforce here – people who are qualified to work, eager to work and ready to start now.
But job creation needs to be a priority – a priority for our county, our state and our nation. And we have to work together to make it possible.
We must put aside our prejudices, personality conflicts, party affiliations and concentrate on providing jobs for everyone who wants one.
If not, we’ll never get out of the ditch.