A mother of four young children, Hightower has already applied for 100 jobs in the area since being laid off in 2009 by RGIS as the company made cutbacks.
“I would take anything right now,” said Hightower, who sat Thursday at the Georgia Department of Labor office on Greene Street. “Even if I was getting paid for going outside and picking up paper, I would do it.”
To pay bills, Hightower has sold personal belongings to pawnshops and started collecting cans to drop off at the recycling center for money. She also moved from her Evans townhome to a more affordable residence in Augusta.
Hightower prides herself on being an independent person who likes to help others. Being unable to provide for herself and her children has been hard, she said.
“Now I need someone to help me,” she said. “I need to get back to where I used to be.”
Hightower wasn’t alone at the office.
With data released Thursday by the state labor department, there’s a complete picture on the jobless situation in the Augusta metro area for 2012. The annual average unemployment rate was 9 percent, which means the annual average has been between 9 and 9.2 percent for four years.
The number of unemployed rises and falls from month to month, typically at its lowest during April for the Masters Tournament and highest in June and July while school is out. Based on labor department data, 22,940 people were jobless in an average month, which signals improvement in the labor market over 2011. Back in 2009, 23,900 people were without work in an average month.
Economists have said they see 2013 as a continuation of the slight improvement in 2012.
The University of Georgia and Georgia State University forecasters say Augusta will gain between 800 and 1,600 jobs this year.
December unemployment was 9 percent for the metro area, up from 8.5 percent in November – and also slightly higher than 8.9 percent in December 2011. There were 481 new claims for unemployment benefits in manufacturing, wholesale trade, administrative and support services and accommodations and food services.
The Augusta unemployment office was filled with dozens of people Thursday.
“It is pretty frustrating because I want to get back out there and work,” said Dalton Jackson, who was laid off in August by NCR Corp. after seven years. The field technician, who has a college degree, has submitted applications more than 50 times in six months to find work in his specialized field.
Employers commonly tell Jackson, of Martinez, that he either lives too far away for the job or is overqualified.
For December, Metro Athens had the lowest rate in the state with 6.6 percent. The Georgia-Altamaha region had the highest with 11.4 percent.
In South Carolina, Greenville and Charleston were the lowest at 7.1 percent; Florence the highest at 9.5 percent, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.
Staff Writer Tim Rausch contributed to this article.