S.C.'s new controversial unemployment rules

The employment picture is slowly improving. The government reported today that the number of Americans putting in their first claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to 352,000, the lowest level in nearly four years.

All the same, four million Americans have been out of work a year or longer.

One state, South Carolina, has a controversial new rule to get people off unemployment.

CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reports that Cherie Mabrey is one South Carolinian who has been collecting unemployment benefits for a year. She sent out hundreds of resumes, but had just one interview.

"I've never been out of work this long before," Mabrey said.

Cherie Mabrey
Cherie Mabrey
CBS News

Mabrey has a Master's degree, management experience and once earned more than $45,000 per year. But a new policy in South Carolina could strip her of weekly unemployment benefits if she refuses to take a minimum wage job.

"I don't think I'm as valued a person as I used to be," Mabrey said.

Under the new rule, after a month of collecting benefits, the unemployed must now accept any offer for a job that pays at least 90 percent of what they used to earn. After 5 months, workers must accept a job that pays minimum wage, or $7.25 an hour.

"I don't mean to dismiss people who flip burgers because that's a valuable service, but I don't think that that would be the best place for me to be," Mabrey said.

South Carolina's Department of Employment says the policy is an incentive to push people to find work. Businesses are supposed to notify the state when a job is offered to someone collecting unemployment.

"You can't just sit at home and wait for someone to call you, because they're not gonna," said Scott Morrison, a civil engineer.

Morrison supports the new policy, even though he spent three and half years looking for full-time work. He often took odd jobs.

"Anything that was presented to me, I took," Morrison said. "I think that (the unemployed) need to be a little more open-minded."

Morrison says low skill jobs helped him support his family. But Mabrey says minimum wage work will get in the way of her search for a good job.

"They see numbers, not necessarily individuals. They don't understand," Mabrey said.

The state expects to have a reporting and enforcement system fully in place by the summer.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.