HENDERSON, N.C. — Thousands of North Carolinians have lost their jobs in the past year due to textile layoffs. Many are turning what could be a problem into an opportunity.
Gregg Williams, 43, is looking for a job, but the opportunities are short and so is time. His unemployment benefits end in a few weeks. After that, there is not much financial help available.
"We do have some Christian ministries that do help with light bills and that sort of thing, but very few that will put money in your pocket," said Sara Wester of the state
Employment Security Commission
One way former textile employees, like Eardine Perry, are getting money in their pockets is by going back to school.
Perry was laid off from Henderson's Americal plant after 33 years as a sewing machine operator. At the age of 50, she is back in the classroom, trying to become a substitute teacher.
Perry's unemployment benefits will be extended for two more years while she learns a new trade. She said that is better than the alternative.
"The only solution you can possibly come up with, like a convenience store, and different things like that. I have to get more than one of those jobs to be able to pay the bills, so to be able to go back to school will be a great help to me," Perry said.
"When a person attends school under the [North American Free] Trade Act, they do get a weekly benefit each week. We do pay for school, and hopefully we are working with them during that period of time that they are in school that they can have a job," Wester said.
Perry considers going back to school a best alternative when the benefits stop.
Benefits cover all laid-off textile workers whose employers leave the country.