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Get a job? Get a grip

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Perhaps there is something to celebrate this holiday season.

The North Carolina Employment Security Commission reported that Charlotte's unemployment rate dropped again in October — to 10.2 percent, the lowest it's been since January 2009. Although it is a small victory, it is a victory indeed, particularly with the economy still struggling to recover.

Even though the unemployment rate has dropped, many people are still out of work. With the holidays right around the corner, unemployment is doubly hurtful because folks are constantly being slammed with advertisements, conversations and grotesque displays of conspicuous consumption in the media and real life. Some folks have given up, throwing caution to the wind, vowing to "enjoy the holidays," because they have literally been stressed out all year over money, savings, retirement or lack thereof.

The only thing more stressful than being unemployed during the holidays is being unemployed during the holidays without jobless benefits. As cynical as I am, I would have never thought that Americans would not want to help fellow Americans, especially those who are down on their luck. Hard-working people who have been laid off or displaced have been demonized and characterized as unwilling to work. Maybe I misspoke: The only thing worse than being unemployed is being unemployed and wanting to work but having wealthy legislators campaign and win elections by portraying you as unwilling to work. Well, I know that folks want to work and have been trying diligently to get back into the workforce. Instead of focusing any more attention on those who have nothing but negativity to offer, I decided to turn to someone who is in the business of helping people help themselves.

I recently spoke with Okeatta Brown, chair of the board of directors for the Urban League Central Carolinas, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to empowering communities. One of the ways in which the group does this is by offering different types of training to help people find jobs or to obtain new skills that will enable them to transition into a new field. According to Brown, the League's clientele has changed during these dire economic times.

"Since the recession hit, we've seen an uptick in the clients that come through the ULCC. The types of clients have changed as well. More professional people are coming through to get training. Perhaps they were involved in the mortgage or lending professions and are now seeking a new career, so we've been helping people develop skills that will assist them in transitioning into other fields," Brown said. She is speaking of the training that the organization offers in fiber optic technology, which has been helpful to people because this type of training is often very expensive or exists in specialized workspaces that are not easily accessible.

The ULCC has helped train and place 186 adults and 100 youths this year alone. Brown understands the need for people to get training so that they have marketable skills that will allow them to re-enter the workforce with dignity.

"Our motto is 'education + training + placement = dignity.' We have found that a lot of people lose hope when they lose their jobs, which affects their self-esteem and self-worth," she said. "We're in the business of getting people what they need in order to restore their dignity so that they can go out into the world with confidence, which will ultimately help them land a job and succeed in that position."

Respect and dignity are the pieces missing in this unemployment debacle. There doesn't seem to be very much respect for unemployed people, which obviously strips them of their dignity.

For those people yelling, "Get a job!" I would like to say, "Get a grip" — and get out of the business of kicking people while they're down. We should be operating, even as individuals, like the ULCC, Salvation Army, Crisis Assistance Ministry and other organizations dedicated to helping those who need assistance temporarily or otherwise. During this holiday season, offer words of uplift and encouragement to those who have been laid off, displaced and are facing dire circumstances. Help someone revise a resume or practice interviewing; sit down and help someone look for jobs on the Internet; search your contacts to see if you can help someone make some connections that can expand his or her network or get an interview.

Whatever you do, make sure that dignity is a part of the equation.

For more information about the Urban League Central Carolinas, visit www.urbanleaguecc.org.

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