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A Party for the unemployed

If you're unemployed, you're certainly not alone. North Carolina's official unemployment rate now stands at 8-and-half percent. On the plus side, the dismal economy is spurring a creation of support groups. Last week, 475 people looking for a job gathered at a bar in Charlotte to help each other out and network for opportunities. The event organized by Center City Partners is billed as a party, but it's not one you want to be invited to. It's a pink slip party. Joanne Joyce expected to see several familiar faces in the crowd gathered at the South End bar. She's standing with three other women laid off from TIAA CREF. Joyce met them a few months ago at outplacement service classes and they became fast friends. They joke and catch-up with each other. "The four of us should just open a franchise together." "What should we do?" "We each get like 50-grand and open up a business." "Doing what?" "Well, that's what we have to discuss. Because it doesn't look like we're going to get hired anywhere. So we might as well do it on our own. Either that or meet four rich guys." "I think we're better off going into a franchise." Joyce attends a support group for unemployed workers every week. At their meetings, they keep tabs on how people are coping, what they've done as far as job hunting, and pass on work leads. Joyce says she's hanging in there. "You get up and say, 'what do I do now?' Go on the computer, call a few people, get rejected, call a few more people. It's constant, but it'll get there," says Joyce. The pink slip party is also a recruitment fair of sorts. Presbyterian Hospital is looking for accountants. A Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officer is taking questions about 125 positions that may open up this summer if they're funded. And a Merrill Lynch representative is encouraging people to consider a loan instead of digging into their 401k. "They want to invest my money I don't have," cracks Joyce. And then there's another motivational speaker. Joyce has heard a lot of them and decides to sit this one out. But Freddie Redfearn, an IT contractor sticks around. The presentation makes sense to him. "I had gone through my self-pity mode. I had gone through that mode where I was blaming the world and now I'm coming out on the other side going, 'Okay, I got to pick up myself. I got to go forward and stop blaming others and say what can I do for you?'" explains Redfearn. He's using the evening to network and talk to as many people as he can. So is T.J. Broadnax, who will soon begin working as a credit counselor. "I have a job paying about a third of what I'm used to making. So do I have a job? Yes. Do I have a job I want to keep? Yes. Until I find a job I really want," he explains. But Broadnax knows he's in a better position than most people at this party.