More Need, Less Help
Amid the job losses, lives are coming unglued. Sheila Turman turned to Columbia's largest food bank, Harvest Hope, a few weeks ago -- the first time in her 52 years she had ever asked a nonprofit for help.
"I was hungry," she said. "You don't know how I wanted a glass of milk."
Turman had worked steadily since she was 15, until she was laid off from her job as a leasing agent at her apartment complex before Christmas. Two weeks after she missed her February rent payment, an eviction notice came. She borrowed a neighbor's car to go to the Department of Social Services to try to get food stamps. But after waiting more than 2 1/2 hours, she had to leave to return the car.
"That wasn't even to apply," she said. "That was to get an appointment to apply."
At Harvest Hope, she was given bread, milk, lettuce, six eggs, sugar and a big box of hot dogs. Staff member Cheryl Davis also handed her a list of nonprofit groups to call for more emergency assistance.
"I called every one," Turman said. One group couldn't help because it serves the working poor and she doesn't have a job. An organization that helps pay utility bills said it was out of money.
She tried the Salvation Army. Overwhelmed by requests, the charity now sets just one day a month for people to schedule appointments. Turman was told to call back on the designated day. They weren't giving out appointments at the moment.
Unlike in Rust Belt communities, where economic erosion is an old story, or in towns where a dominant employer has shut down, the loss of jobs here in Columbia and across South Carolina is diffuse, a sagging of a broad swath of the local economy. According to the state's Employment Security Commission, the nearly 43,000 jobs that vanished from South Carolina in January included almost 12,000 in retail, and about 6,000 each in manufacturing, hospitality, and professions and business.