Fruitless job hunt limits families

Michael Holahan/Staff
Chinnika Jackson has been searching for a job to support sons Jaden Jackson (left), 1, and Melquan Robinson, 3.

Chinnika Jackson's two young sons have the basics -- food, water and lights.

But she wishes Melquan, 3, and Jaden, 1, could have more. Ms. Jackson has been looking for a job for more than a year.

"As long as my kids have what they need, that's all that really matters, but I wish they didn't have to want for anything," the 20-year-old said Thursday while looking for work at Goodwill Job Connection. "Sometimes it gets stressful, but I know I'm doing all I can."

Ms. Jackson's struggle is shared by a growing number of Georgia and South Carolina parents.

In 2007 about 33 percent of Georgia's children were being raised in households where parents did not have full-time work, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2009 Kids Count Data Book, released Tuesday. Georgia ranked 26th in the country in that category, and South Carolina ranked 33rd, with 34 percent of its children living in homes where parents do not have full-time employment. The data uses 10 indicators to measure the health and well-being of American children.

The latest data for area counties, collected in 2000, shows that 8,065 children in Richmond County, or 16.5 percent, and 1,250 children in Columbia County, or 4.9 percent, live in families where parents do not have full-time employment. No statistics were recorded in that category for Aiken County.

The numbers have increased in the area since then, said Elsa Bustamante, the career center coordinator for Goodwill Job Connection on Peach Orchard Road. Her office has seen a 17 percent increase in repeat job seekers in the past year. About 98 percent of those job seekers are parents, she said.

"We rarely find just a single person looking for work," Ms. Bustamante said. "It's a challenge for them, especially this time a year, when kids are out of school. They're looking for jobs and often can't afford child care."

The circumstances are similar for many parents in Aiken County, said Mike Solenberger, the placement supervisor at the Aiken Workforce Center. A good percentage of the center's job seekers have minor children. And some face the challenge of a two-parent home where neither parent is employed full time.

"There wasn't as great a stress before because one parent would be looking for work and another would be working," Mr. Solenberger said. "Unemployment for two people hardly pays the bills."

Ms. Jackson said she received her medical billing certification two weeks ago, and she said she will continue to apply for jobs daily.

"You just can't give up," she said. "I look at the boys every day. They're my motivation. I breathe every morning because of them, so I want to provide for them."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

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Find county-by-county data at datacenter.kidscount.org.