Unemployment On The Rise

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(8 of 10)

"I've got two kids in college, and the mill didn't give us any pension," says Everett Mays bitterly. "What kind of a job can a man get who's 48? Damn right I'm scared." Says Mill Superintendent Melvin Blackwell, 59, who also will be fired: "You meet people in the store crying. These people put their whole lives in that mill, their whole heart, and they get nothing out of it. Just a closing."

For white-collar workers thrown out of work, the hardships can be just as painful. Virginia Hall runs a job-counseling club for unemployed professionals in Atlanta, and she has discovered that the psychological toll often exceeds the financial loss. "All these people have mortgages and are committed to certain life-styles," she observes. "In a way, they're more pitiful than the blue-collar workers who are unemployed. This is their first experience of losing a job, and they are stunned. They have no idea of how to cope."

At the community kitchen run by St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Atlanta, about 300 people a day showed up for free hot meals last winter. Today some 500 eat there daily, and Director Bill Boiling believes most of the newcomers are workers who have lost their jobs. "We have always had the derelicts," says Boiling. "But now we're seeing a different type of person—women, children, families." Even in prosperous Texas there are storm clouds on the horizon. Though jobs are still plentiful for skilled workers in Houston and Dallas, the rush of jobless from the North and Midwest has forced some less skilled natives out of work. Charles Croucs, 27, of Fort Worth lost his job as a painter two months ago. He blames outsiders who are willing to work for $6 an hour rather than the $8 or $9 he once collected. Says Croucs angrily: "All those people from up north just flooded the market."

As unemployment casts an ever longer shadow across the country, some labor unions are attempting to save jobs by making concessions to employers on wages and benefits. At troubled Eastern Air Lines, the pilots have agreed, in principle, to a twelve-month wage freeze, while the Teamsters Union struck an agreement three weeks ago with 284 trucking companies that left them with one cost of living increase a year instead of two. The United Auto Workers had been negotiating with General Motors to hammer out a new contract that exchanged "givebacks" in benefits for greater job security and lower car prices, but the talks ended in failure last week (see ECONOMY & BUSINESS). The UAW will nevertheless try to negotiate a similar contract with Ford Motor Co. this week. Charlie Renfro, an axle checker at a Ford truck plant in Louisville, is not happy with the prospect of givebacks but takes a common view: "Half a loaf is better than none."

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