Charlotte, N.C., Job Woes Go Beyond Banking Unemployment is up sharply, but people are still moving to the former banking boomtown. That makes life even tougher for Deborah Hadden. She's so afraid of losing her home, she'll take any job — even one paying half what she used to make.
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Charlotte, N.C., Job Woes Go Beyond Banking

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Charlotte, N.C., Job Woes Go Beyond Banking

Charlotte, N.C., Job Woes Go Beyond Banking

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next we'll return to one of the cities on our Money Map. It's a major banking center - Charlotte, North Carolina. When we last visited five months ago, Charlotte's banks were struggling and one had to be bought out in a hurry. Yet reporter Julie Rose told us that construction crews were still building new offices downtown.

JULIE ROSE: From where I'm standing here, it's like a forest of cranes. They've got one, two huge yellow ones up either side of the high-rise and then three, four, five, six, seven others working on various surrounding buildings.

INSKEEP: That was the scene in Charlotte, North Carolina last fall. Julie Rose of our member station WFAE is back again to tell us what's happening now. Hi, Julie.

ROSE: Hello, Steve.

INSKEEP: Still got a forest of cranes downtown?

ROSE: There's a lot of work being done. That building will be finished next year, but just because there is a lot of work going on doesn't mean the economy is going as well as it was at the time. In fact, back when we spoke first, our employment rate was, in October, was at 7.2 percent. It's now up to 10.5 percent. That's the fourth highest of any major metro area. Much worse than the national average.

In fact, we've got some local economists who are predicting it's going to get much higher than that, up to 12, maybe 13 percent by 2010. One of those economists is Mark Vitner, who is - happens to be with Wachovia.

Mr. MARK VITNER (Wachovia): You know, it's not just banking; NASCAR has seen a real slowdown. There are a thousand manufacturing plants in Mecklenburg County. Manufacturing will probably have more job losses than financial services.

INSKEEP: That's a forecast from a Charlotte economist. Julie Rose, that - what he said explains a rough economy, everything's going down. But why would the unemployment rate be even worse than elsewhere?

ROSE: Well, he has got this idea called importing unemployment. Charlotte is still one of the fastest growing areas in the country, we're sixth highest and we've been known as a place to come to get a job, a good economy. That's still out there. People haven't maybe discovered that our economy, our unemployment rate is as high as it is. There must be a lot of copies of Fortune and Money magazine floating around out there in doctors' offices that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROSE: …people still think we're a great place.

INSKEEP: Had those lists in them. Yeah, yeah. Okay, so it looks good, looks good on paper. But people get there and they find out something different.

ROSE: Well, they're finding lot of competition for the few jobs that are still available and very long lines. I'll give you an example. Recently I went to a job fair being held by a new resort that's opening in the area. They needed 500 people to mostly work minimum wage jobs, serving drinks, you know, cleaning hotel rooms. Five thousand people showed up. And they lined them all up in this big warehouse, and the resort's regional vice-president, Curtis Brown(ph), came in to kind of tell them what the deal was.

Mr. CURTIS BROWN: As you can see, there has been a tremendous turnout for this job fair. It reminds me of "American Idol."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROWN: I'm here to be honest with you. You are going to be here probably for another six hours.

(Soundbite of woman shouting)

INSKEEP: Okay, when they were told it was going to be a six hour wait, did these thousands of people stay?

ROSE: Many, maybe most of them actually did. You know, I was going up and down the line talking to people. I met some out of work bankers, construction workers, bartenders, who say they're just not getting the tips they need anymore. And that one woman, her name is Deborah Hadden, she stuck around for the full time. She is a buyer at an electronics company. She was, before she got laid off about eight months ago. And she says, look, I'll take any job at this point.

Ms. DEBORAH HADDEN: If I don't find a job soon I'll lose my home, so that's why I'm out here in the cold, hoping to get a job. If it pays 10 bucks an hour, that's fine with me.

ROSE: So at the same time that we have new people coming here to find a job, I am meeting a lot of people who came for the old Charlotte, and they're starting to wonder if it's maybe time to leave.

INSKEEP: Well, Julie Rose, before you leave, I want to come back to those skyscrapers that you said are still under construction downtown, despite all the bad economic news. I remember one of them belonged to a bank, Wachovia, which was being snapped up at that moment. And there was some question about whether they would be able to occupy the space, or whether their new owners would occupy the space. What's happening with that building?

ROSE: We've just learned that Duke Energy, which is also headquartered here in Charlotte - they're a huge utility company, power company - they will be moving into that building and it will actually be called the Duke Energy Center. Of course, there is a lot of discussion of energy going on right now in Washington, a lot of talk about it being part of the stimulus and the recovery of the country.

So I think it's interesting, and symbolic perhaps, that banks will no longer dominate Charlotte's downtown skyline, but that an energy company will be part of that mix.

INSKEEP: Julie Rose, at member station WFAE, has taken us to the latest point on our Money Map, Charlotte, North Carolina. Julie, thanks.

ROSE: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: We've covered nine spots on the map with more to come, and you can find the map at NPR.org. Later today on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, you'll hear from a former Charlotte bank manager, now looking for a job.

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