Former Trump Plaza pit clerk Charles H. Jones will not sit around and wait to see if jobs come back to Atlantic City.

His Fairmount Avenue home is up for sale because he is set to lose his unemployment benefits soon and will have no income.

Jones, 62, worked for 27 years at the Plaza, the fourth casino to close last year. Now he plans to leave New Jersey and move to Las Vegas

“What will I do when I run out of unemployment? I don’t know. I flat-out, basically don’t know. I haven’t got a clue,” Jones said.

Jones is not alone in his dilemma.

More than seven months after three Atlantic City casinos closed in rapid succession, casino workers who haven’t yet found other employment are desperately competing for jobs and trying to figure out how they will live now that their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits are drying up.

More than 5,500 workers filed unemployment claims connected to the closings of Revel, Showboat, Trump Plaza and the Atlantic Club, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The average weekly unemployment payment in New Jersey last year was $384.

As those people lose unemployment benefits, the loss of that income — a total of approximately $8.5 million per month — will ripple through South Jersey’s economy.

“This is a crisis. We need help. It’s only going to get worse from this point forward. Think about what could happen to this area if thousands of people can’t find work. We’re all fighting for the same thing: work,” Jones said.

Jones knows just how grim the local job market is.

He attended the job fair at Bass Pro Shops in January and sat for about three hours to be told the store was only hiring 200 people.

Jones feels that his age and the fact he walks with a cane are working against him in a market where employers can choose from a wide pool of applicants.

But even getting a new job is no guarantee that life for these former casino workers will ever be the same.

Just ask Norma Scillieri, 55, who lost her job as a table games supervisor at Revel.

Scillieri has been searching for work for six months. The jobs that are available pay $10 per hour — about 30 percent of what she used to earn.

Her daughter, Michelle, is 22. But because she has special needs, her mother is earning the only income in the home.

These days, Scillieri watches what she spends, cutting back on her grocery bill, getting rid of cable TV and her landline phone.

“I miss not worrying about money when I go food shopping. I used to be able to buy whatever I wanted, but now I buy what I need. It used to be organic chicken, and now I’m looking at regular chicken legs,” she said.

Like Scillieri, Joan Cooper, 65, said she rations her food and rarely splurges.

Cooper earned $572 per week in unemployment benefits, compared with the more than $700 she earned weekly as a dealer at Revel. Now, she is preparing to lose her income.

Cooper used to enjoy impromptu lunches and dinners at the casinos close to her Atlantic City condo.

Last month, she applied for food stamps and received $168 for the month of March.

“I don’t know how I am going to eat once I have no income coming in. There’s always the food bank, but there’s thousands of us. I’ve cut back on so much, and now it’s going to be worse,” Cooper said.

Jobs still a sticking point in recovery

Even illness can’t keep Cooper from her desperate search for new employment.

Just days after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her breast last month, Cooper said she wasn’t in pain, but instead focused on finding new job.

She is scheduled to begin radiation twice a day for several weeks but is worried about coming up with gas and toll money for the trip from Atlantic City to Egg Harbor Township. Once radiation begins, she will have to apply for disability.

Cooper’s friend Colleen Lennon, 52, has been denying herself simple comforts to save money.

The Atlantic City woman watches what she eats and keeps the thermostat low to reduce her heating bills since losing her job as a dealer at Revel.

“All during the winter, the heat is now set at 63. I’m looking at my thermostat and it’s 60 degrees in the house and I won’t turn the heat on. I won’t do it because I know one day there will be no money,” Lennon said.

But even worse, for her, is the feeling of being a burden. When her sister calls and asks that they go out, Lennon declines the invitation.

“My sister will say she will pay for me, but I am the big sister, I am supposed to pay, I am supposed to take care of her. I appreciate it, but I am not a charity case,” she said.

For Jones, living and working in southern New Jersey is no longer an option.

His plan, if it comes to fruition, is to sell his house on Fairmount Avenue, move to Nevada, buy a doublewide trailer and secure a job as a pit clerk in a casino in Las Vegas.

His plan was to retire in New Jersey, but that’s a life he can no longer afford.

“In six months I’d like to see myself out of here. I turn 62 on May 17. My birthday present is going to be the end of my unemployment. I’d really like it to be an offer on my home so I can leave and head west,” he said.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-513-6686

@ACPressWeaver on Twitter

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I have been a reporter with the Press since January 2007. I am a recent recipient of a fellowship through the American Society of News Editors Minority Leadership Institute. I am a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a graduate student.

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