CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Harry Payne is the former head of North Carolina's Employment Security Commission, before that he was Commissioner of Labor. He's spent his entire career dealing with the unemployed, but he says he's never seen so much anger aimed at them.
"The thing that bothers me the most is all the notions you hear about if they really wanted to get a job they would," Payne says. "That's just not true, and it breaks my heart to see it."
After the recession, many employers permanently reduced their staff, and so they can afford to be picky, but Payne says they're leaving out large groups of candidates, like anyone who's been out of work for a while, or anyone over fifty.
"It's a plight of the older worker," says 62-year-old Fritz Nowak. "I'm a journeyman. I've got a lot of skills. But no one employer wants to hire me because of my age."
"I have never seen the folks in the legislature," says Payne, "respond to a crisis with such coldness and apparent indifference, and it's inexcusable."
Republicans recently said they'd keep funds flowing to the chronically unemployed, but only if they could slash the state budget. Governor Bev Perdue said she couldn't do it, and 37,000 people lost their extensions.
And then a lot of lawmakers seemed to shift their attention to a new proposal...one that would require the unemployed to perform community service in exchange for their benefits.
Payne says that only furthers the stereotype that the unemployed are lazy.
"It gets to looking like you got busted for DWI and you're doing community service, and that becomes punishment," he says.