Black Unemployment At Depression Level Highs In Some Cities
Her husband had been the breadwinner, making divorce an event with serious financial ramifications. Before the couple’s relationship was completely over, Nolan became pregnant, intensifying that pressure. Her mother gave her money to rent her own apartment.
She was only 23, but she suddenly had adult responsibilities. A single mother with her own bills to pay, she found herself in need of a solid career. She took a job at a Red Cross blood bank where she earned about $17,000 a year and then moved on to a job at Aetna US Healthcare, where her earnings climbed to about $25,000. She put money aside and, two years later, had enough to buy herself a $69,000 three-bedroom house in her parent’s neighborhood.
When she thinks of those years now, she says, a song comes to mind: “Independent Women,” the 2000 hit from the girl group Destiny’s Child. The lyrics pose a question: “Tell me how you feel about this … The house I live in / I've bought it / The car I'm driving / I've bought it / I depend on me.”
“I really felt like that was me,” Nolan says now. “I thought, ‘you know, I wasn’t raised in an apartment. I don’t want this for my daughter. I’ve got to put some things together,’ and I did.”
Two years later, in 2000, Nolan got herself a job as a fill-in teller at First Citizens Bank, working in different branches scattered across the Charlotte region. The job only paid $25,500. But, Nolan saw what she thought was the opportunity to advance.
She impressed a manager and the bank transferred her permanently to a commercial banking unit downtown. Still, she had a nagging feeling that working hard would not be enough. Her father had been the valedictorian of his high school class and talked a lot about the importance of school. Without a college degree, her opportunities seemed limited -- and she wanted her father to be proud.
In 2002, she enrolled in college. Nolan took classes at night and continued working at the bank full-time during the day. She sent her daughter to day care or to stay with her parents.
She began seeing another man and eventually had a second daughter with him. But the relationship didn’t last. Having another child only reinforced the imperative to advance her career.
“I realized that I needed to be an example to my children,” she says. “I needed to be in a better position to make it on my own. That’s when I got really serious about school.”
She pushed herself through college through a combination of local classes and online course offerings, completing her bachelor’s degree in 2006. Two years later, Nolan finished an M.B.A., emerging with $84,000 in student loan debt, she says, but a powerful sense that she had armed herself for success.
But that same summer, First Citizens began suffering from the effects of the economic downturn. Euphemisms like “rightsizing” came up in meetings and filled office conversation. As news of layoffs began to spread around the bank, so did stress. So many people were developing or managing stress-related illnesses that Nolan’s work area became known as “the sick floor.”
“Everyone was speculating about which departments would stay and which were going to go,” she says.
When First Citizens began laying off employees that fall, Nolan was earning about $40,000 a year. That was about $12,000 less than Charlotte’s median household earnings at the time, but it was enough to manage and still save a tiny fraction for emergencies and retirement. She was owed nearly $35,000 in unpaid child support, she says, but she was able to provide for her family and could lean on a $15,000 home equity credit line as needed.
Positive by nature, Nolan told herself she would endure -- even after a round of layoffs claimed her job.
A few minutes after she got the news in the conference room, Nolan sat in the parking lot and fished though her purse. She was looking for the piece of paper where she’d written down contact information for a woman at a South Carolina collections company. They were hiring.
“At that point, I was pretty optimistic, very optimistic even,” says Nolan.
So optimistic that when she was offered the job with the collections agency, she turned it down because it entailed a commute of nearly an hour and paid $15,000 less than her previous job.
Some 32 months and countless rejections later, Nolan knows some people will think her decision was a mistake.
“But I’m not sure.” she says. “I am a single mother who would be an hour away from her kids if they get sick during the day, making less money and driving a longer distance to work putting more wear and tear on my car.”
In the beginning, Nolan set rigid job search goals for herself: She had to pursue a minimum of 10 jobs per day.
Yet despite applying for hundreds of positions, she has received only a few callbacks and been granted a mere handful of interviews, she says.
She has been hired twice, but neither job lasted. In late 2008, she worked as an office manager at an airport concessions company after a friend referred her. But three months later, as business declined, she was laid off again. She soon landed another position as assistant director of sales at a telecommunications company. About 11 months later, in April 2010, a dip in business meant yet another layoff.
“That was rough for me, very rough,” Nolan says. “I am a person who keeps a job, who stays with my job. I don’t jump from place to place.”