Unemployment On The Rise

  • Share
  • Read Later

(7 of 10)

THE WEST. The region is an economic patchwork quilt. Wyoming has an unemployment rate below 5%, California copes with 8.6%, and Oregon and Washington are suffering badly. Because the lumber trade has been crippled by construction woes, Oregon has an unemployment rate of 11.4%; Washington has 11.1%. By the middle of last month, 19,000 of the region's 102,000 sawmill employees had been laid off, while another 41,000 were working curtailed shifts. "It's like Chinese water torture," says John Hampton, chairman of Hampton Affiliates, a Portland-based logging company. "There's been no relief." Two weeks ago, the U.S. Postal Service in Portland announced that it would have between 800 and 1,000 new job openings over the next three years; 18,642 applications flooded in.

Since losing his job as a forklift driver at a mill in Molalla, Ore., last August, James Wittig, 35, has been scrambling for a job. He applied to work as an exterminator and tried to land a job laying gravel. "I'll try anything, but there's nothing," he says. "If there's a job open in Oregon, there's at least 100 people trying to get it." Wittig's wife works as a cook for $360 a month to support him and their two children, but it is not nearly enough. Says Wittig: "I'd like to talk to the President for half an hour. I'd say, 'You're living high off the hog. You're telling us how good everything's going to be in two years. But we're starving today!' "

Hilton Ridgeway, 41, never even got a job in the Northwest. He resigned as a computer programmer in Albany and moved to Oregon with his wife and four children last June, expecting to find a new job easily. After several months of looking, he tried to enlist in the Army, but was too old. Just before Christmas, Ridgeway found six weeks of work at $3.35 an hour on a Christmas tree farm. He doesn't like to recall that until recently he made $30,000 a year.

THE SOUTH. The recession is blooming late in the region. Unemployment rates in many Southern states are below the national average, but they are gradually climbing upward. Georgia (6.8%) and Florida (7.7%) are relatively well off, but other Southern states have already surpassed the national rate: the figure is 10.2% in Arkansas and 10.4% in Tennessee. "We can't see any bright side," says Gene Keenum, a UAW union official in Memphis. "Everywhere we look, they're cutting back." The picture is totally different in booming Texas, where the rate is 4.5%. Says Terence Traviand of the Texas Employment Commission: "There is no sense of crisis here—yet."

Shutdowns and layoffs can be especially devastating in textile-mill towns that depend on only one or two factories for their existence. In Newberry, S.C. (pop. 10,000), the first blow came last month when the Collins & Aikman hosiery plant was closed down, idling 340 workers. Two weeks ago, Newberry Mills began shutting down its obsolete, 98-year-old cotton mill for good; 330 workers are being fired. Unemployment in Newberry County is now 16%, triple the rate of last December.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10