Behind the Doc

Documentary gives voice to long-term unemployed

Posted September 9, 2013

On the same day the story broke about the big raises for two inexperienced staffers at the NC Department of Health and Human Services I received an e-mail from Sydney Houston, a woman we had interviewed a month earlier for our documentary “Cut Loose and Cut Off." She’s one of the 70,000 people who lost federally funded extended unemployment benefits on July 1. She wrote that her electricity had been cut off. That will certainly make her job hunt easier.

Houston recently finished her master’s degree and is trying to get a teaching position at a local public school, a job that will pay about half what those DHHS staffers are making but will likely do far more to serve the public good, which is supposed to be the point of being a public servant.

Houston is one of the people Representative Julia Howard calls “welfare dependent."  Howard helped lead the effort to pass House Bill 4, which overhauled North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system and led to the termination of federal funding for the extended benefits unemployed workers get when their state benefits run out.

Sen. Bob Rucho NC alone in choice to end extended unemployment checks

Those benefits are designed for exactly the situation we’ve experienced over the last five years: a severe recession followed by chronic high unemployment. It’s easy to expect people to just “get a job” like the lyric in that old Bruce Hornsby hit, but it’s hard for people to do that when there is only one available job for every three unemployed workers in our state.

In all the debate over House Bill 4, in interviews and public statements, its supporters rarely, if ever, mention the people it affects the most, people like Sydney Houston, who lost their benefits and are now trying to figure out how to pay the bills. The primary purpose of our documentary “Cut Loose and Cut Off” is to give them a voice.

The WRAL Documentary “Cut Loose and Cut Off” is hosted by WRAL News anchor Bill Leslie. It airs Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, at 7 p.m.


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  • rsmith2288 Sep 14, 2013

    I wish that every rabid Republican Fox News viewer over 60 would get fired-and then have to go through the degrading experience of looking for a job. And being told they are overqualified, too old, and just not told anything at all. Once the reality of unemployment hits them in the face, they might, just might be a bit more tolerant of those who are over 60 and seeking employment.

  • kliberto Sep 13, 2013

    I think it's time we vote some of these aged, cold blooded, representatives like Howard out of office. She is clearly delusional if she thinks this was the right thing to do to people. Employers, like the guy with the pest control company said it all; people are so desperate now, they will accept the pay we give them. Smaller salaries, bigger profits for the company. The problem is, you can't support a family on minimum wage and, it's less money going back into the economy. And now employer abuse is running rampant in NC along with employment scams because this law has made the unemployed vulnerable. How do you get a job when there are 200 or more applicants for every opening? 3rd highest unemployment rate. Get a clue.

  • SisterChristian Sep 13, 2013

    There should be a law passed regarding age discrimination and providing exclusive jobs for people that are not from here. NC natives should have top priority. Many companies pay for people from all over the world to come in for interviews paying their hotel fees and airfare when someone from NC could do a better job. FOR THOSE DOING THIS PLEASE LEAVE....WE DO NOT WANT YOU HERE....GO! NATIVES can spot you in a second....we do not like you and do not want you in this STATE. Go home.

  • dollibug Sep 13, 2013

    Having *DISABILITY* is a good thing, as long as you DO NOT NEED IT. It is a shame that our NC government does not have laws in place to protect employees from such as this. It happened to me and I am sure it can happen to anyone. Most people DO NOT want to DRAW any sort of benefits. A person can NOT live off of what they get. Sometimes they are left with doing so whether they like it or not. I can NOT even believe some of the comments that some of the people are making about this. Please do not JUDGE anyone unless you have walked in their shoes....because you have NO IDEA.

  • dollibug Sep 13, 2013

    Most people do NOT plan and save up for a rainy day....and for those of us who did, we did NOT expect so many of them. This is kind of like the government who when times were good and they had a *surplus of funds* they continued to find *things to spend the extra money on instead of putting it back for a rainy day. I worked for a company for over 14 years and had paid for *extra disability benefits* just in case I ever needed it. I had to file a worker's comp claim and it was approved. A year and a half later I had to file another WC Claim. 2 days after I had surgery I was laid off. The company decided not to process my *disability benefits* which I was entitled to since I was employed when I had my surgery, since I had already file the WC Claim. The company later DENIED my WC Claim. I ended up with only a severance package that I was provided due to my lay off. I became disabled due to health problems I was having. I was left with no job, no benefits. Had to fight for SSD.

  • etshoney Sep 12, 2013

    There you go cefoecke! You accepted a position that pays less than before. Work is out there folks! Do 2 jobs if you have to. You will survive.

  • cefoecke Sep 12, 2013

    I have worked very hard since I was 15 years old (over 30 years). I have a master's degree and worked my way into management positions. I never understood how people could be unemployed for long periods of time - until it happened to me. In the 7 months I was unemployed, I applied for so many jobs, but far too often I was told I was overqualified or that I would not be happy with the salary they were offering. But I would have been, just to work. I finally found a job that pays 1/3 less than I used to make. Don't judge these folks until you have walked in their shoes. I wish them luck.

  • common tater Sep 12, 2013

    If she just got her masters, how bad off can she be...masters in what? I feel for the unemployed. But it seems the only unemployed I know have a bad work ethic, are trained for no real job, or are inflexible, unwilling to move, etc. I've had to move plenty of times for a job...including to other countries. As for SARCASTICLES, I love people who think they're the only one on the planet who's compasionate and charitable.

  • etshoney Sep 12, 2013

    At one time in our lives I wanted a night job. My husband was already working 2 jobs. A factory was the only thing available and I was VERY overqualified but at the interview I explained that this job would keep food on the table and guaranteed them I would stay for a year. The manager hired and I kept my promise. I didn't care if I had to beg and put it on the line. Get out there and BEG! If you are honest and commit to the job they will love to have you, over qualified or not. Give it a try. There are very few MANAGEMENT positions out there so lower your expectations and BEG!

  • SARCASTICLES Sep 12, 2013

    It's absolutely touching to witness the outpouring of compassion and human decency toward the folks who have found themselves in financial dire straits due to the worst economic disaster since THE Great Depression, which started in 2008.

    These poor souls are fortunate to live in a time when "Family Values" and "Compassionate Conservatism" are there to ease their suffering, and selfish, bitter people don't exist.

    We can also be thankful for all the people who don't agree with anything that is posted on this website, but log on to whine and complain about stories like this that rattle their cages, and make them feel uncomfortable and ashamed of their inhumanity towards their fellow man. They are most assuredly destined for rich rewards in the afterlife.




About this Blog:

Documentary producer and writer Clay Johnson provides some behind-the-scenes insight into the production of WRAL documentaries.