Editor's note: At the time of the Aiken Standard interview, Stacey Nathan was unemployed. A couple days after the interview, she found a part-time job with Sears and currently is awaiting a call for another job opportunity.
This past year was and continues to be the worst year for Aiken resident Stacey Nathan – she's frightened and she's scared.
Unemployment has taken a toll on Nathan, who wished not to reveal her age.
Since Nov. 5 of last year, Nathan had five different job interviews, sent out dozens of resumes and even signed up and paid for classes on how to be a better job seeker. Not one was successful.
“To put it bluntly, I'm screwed,” Nathan said. “I don't know what I will do.”
Originally from New York, Nathan lived in Queens and then New Jersey area before moving to Aiken with a friend about 13 years ago. She moved to Aiken without a job, but found one shortly after and worked there for about 11 years. Her job had her focusing on different issues, but always related back to client services.
“I really like to work with people, and, in the company I worked at, I was helping people throughout the day,” Nathan said. “My first position was handling software and purchasing of computers. But then I also got to deal with cellphones and that was awesome getting to learn and use new technology. It's just a really good feeling to make someone happy and make sure they have what they need to do their job.”
After switching to the purchasing department in search of more money, the company and the family she grew to love decided to let her go. Nathan was devastated and crushed.
“From my point of view, it was devastating,” Nathan said. “It was just everything is going fine one day, and then the next they come in and say go to human resources. They told me they were really sorry that they had to eliminate my position and asked me to get my stuff and please leave. There was no warning.”
Nathan understood it was just a business decision and not the employer's responsibility to make sure things were OK. It was a surprise and a situation Nathan did not foresee, but she is not alone
About 8 percent of South Carolina's population in August was unemployed, a difference from November 2003 when the unemployment rate was just about 6.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. While the numbers of those employed did go up from 2003 to 2013, the unemployment rose, as well.
Recently, the Labor Bureau announced employers added about 204,000 new jobs and 60,000 more jobs were created in September and August. However, unemployment rose to 7.3 percent.
Nathan's struggle to find a job in the market in which she has always worked may be due to employer preference, age or that she has only a few years of college experience under her belt, but no degree. She spent a few semesters at Pace University in New York before moving to Aiken with every intention of finishing her degree, but found she was unable to pay for classes.
“I've applied for federal aid, and I was accepted into a program at Aiken Tech, but my issue is that I need the program to approve books,” Nathan said. “I can't afford books.”
Within Aiken city limits, about 91 percent of residents have high school diplomas, and about 45 percent have bachelor's degrees, according to the U.S. Census. In Aiken County, about 84 percent of resident have high school degrees, and about 24 percent have bachelor's degrees.
Without a college degree, unable to find even part-time work, Nathan survives off of unemployment checks, which are running out, on both the federal and state level.
Even with unemployment checks, Nathan can hardly cover living or food. Soon, Nathan will apply for SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. It is a decision into which Nathan has put much thought.
“Food stamps to me is more like a handout; it's just too dependent on the system,” Nathan said. “I was OK with unemployment because it's what you get when you get laid off, but food stamps, I didn't want to have to do that. But I don't have a choice now. I have to be able to provide for myself and my cats.”
Nathan also does not have medical coverage. Fortunately, she has had to go to the emergency room only one time and have a scan administered for $1,000.
“To anyone who might look at me and say that I'm lazy or not trying hard enough, don't judge,” Nathan said. “Don't judge, because you do not know people's circumstances. And you will not understand someone's circumstances unless you have been there yourself.”
Nathan's birthday is today and for the coming year she only has one wish.
“If I could wish for anything it would be a full-time job or just a job,” Nathan said. “That's what I want more than anything.”
The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce will release September 2013 unemployment rates today at 3:30 p.m.
To access those numbers, visit www.dew.sc.gov.
Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard.
An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.