Filing tips for benefits as unemployment rates rise

Unemployment rates are up in Barnwell County, more than doubling the national rate of unemployment for November.

Barnwell County's unemployment rates were at 14.4 percent for November 2008. The national unemployment rate was 6.7 percent.

Guy Ferguson, the assistant director of the local Employment Security Commission  Workforce Center said for those faced with unemployment there are some steps which should be taken right away.

The first step is to go to the local Employment Security Commission office and apply for unemployment benefits - whether one thinks they are qualified or not.

The local office submits the application and the state office confirms or denies eligibility, Ferguson said.

For a mass-layoff as in the case of the Milliken plant, who just announced by mid-year they will completely shut down the Barnwell plant, Ferguson said his office has a Rapid Response Team.

The team consists of members from the South Carolina Employment Security Commission and the Commerce Department, he said.

The team holds sessions at the plant location for workers affected by the layoff, he said.

Ferguson also cautions those who think they qualify for unemployment but think there may be a waiting period to not wait. Applicants should register at the local office. If there is a waiting period it will be assessed after registering, he said.

Any waiting periods do not start until after a person has registered, Ferguson said.

When one files for unemployment benefits, Ferguson said a form is sent to the former employer, who has up to eight days to respond to the request. The form verifies the reason for separation of employment, he said.

Typically, first-time filers can expect to wait at least 10 working days to receive their first benefits. For some the delay can be longer based on missing information or other problems, he said.

Ferguson said his office recommends applicants bring in an identification card and their Social Security card, but those are not mandatory.

The Employment Security Commission also offers other benefits to those seeking employment he said.

The Workforce Incentive Act has retraining sessions available if one qualifies, he said.

The office also has a job bank where seekers can look for employment. The job bank can also be accessed on-line through the commission's Web site at www.sces.org

December 2008 unemployment numbers are expected to be released in the next few days, said Ferguson.

 The number of unemployed has kept Barnwell County near the top of the county unemployment ranking list. The county is now ranked third in the state - tied with Bamberg County.

Allendale County has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 17.8 percent.

Just one year ago, November 2007, Barnwell County was holding at 8.8 percent unemployment rate.

Although as of July 24, 2008 the federal minimum wage rose to $6.55 per hour and is scheduled to rise again July 24, 2009 to $7.25 per hour, those dollars buy less goods each year.

In 1976, the federal minimum wage was $2.30 per hour. Those dollars based on an average cost of goods in 1996 dollars would buy you $6.34 work of goods. As of 2007, with the minimum wage at $5.85 per hour, those dollars would only buy consumers an average of $4.41 worth of goods.

Those numbers are based on consumer price indexes for all urban consumers, according to a U.S. Department of Labor Web site.

Additionally, the number of individuals falling below the poverty level has increased.

In 2000, the number of individuals below the poverty line in South Carolina totaled 557,000. In 2006 the number increased to 656,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With layoffs in sight for many individuals across the county and the state, those numbers look to increase again in 2009.