CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sonia Street makes less money than she used to, but she says she is better off today than four years ago thanks to lessons learned from a brutal unemployment spell.
"I am grateful that I do have a job. Being out of work two years was tough," Street said. "From a personal perspective, I think I am better off ... [Unemployment] taught me how to live differently."
Street, who is 44 and lives in Charlotte, lost her $17-an-hour job handling accounts payable for a commercial property firm in 2009. She said her new position handling customer service at a Charlotte Sprint store pays $12 an hour. Workers who found new work after losing jobs during the Great Recession commonly earn less than they did before, according to the Labor Department.
Between the two jobs, Street said she became less materialistic. Describing her former mindset, she recalled a TV ad for prepaid debit cards that said "everyone should have access to the American Dream."
"Prepaid card, like it’s the American Dream to have plastic," Street said. "That was a real prominent thing at that time. If you didn't have it, you were on the bottom rung. I don't have any credit cards right now. I don’t want to get caught up in that again."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said President Barack Obama can't tell the American people they're better off than they were four years ago. Street said she is not an enthusiastic Obama supporter, but she is sympathetic to his situation.
"I think he's done the best that he can given the circumstances, when you have Republicans in control and they’re not willing to work with him," she said.
Street has personal experience with obstinate Republicans. In April 2011, a standoff between Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly interrupted unemployment insurance for tens of thousands of laid-off North Carolinians, including Street. She didn't receive a check for weeks while Republicans held the benefits hostage for budget cuts.
The next month, Street's landlord put an eviction notice on her front door. Street eventually came up with the rent when Perdue issued an executive order that restored the benefits. In her statement announcing the order, Perdue described how the standoff affected a single mother with circumstances similar to Street's.
"Because she lost her benefits, she and her daughter can no longer stay in their apartment," Perdue said. "They have nowhere to put their belongings, so they will also lose everything that they can’t carry to the homeless shelter."
Street avoided the shelter, but she's bitter about the experience. "It felt like literally somebody was wishing me dead," she said. "I thought like, 'Wow, somebody doesn’t care if I live or die.'"
The Charlotte area's unemployment rate is 10 percent.