Though metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate of 8.7 percent is nearly the lowest number recorded since 2009, some residents still haven’t quite felt the change and are turning to unconventional means to pull in enough cash to pay their way.
Such is the case with Canton’s Donald Stancil.
Through the years, the life-long Canton resident said he’s done any kind of work he could find, from general labor and construction to running down chickens for slaughter in the chicken plant and vacuuming under machines in the now-closed cotton mill on Riverstone Parkway. He now lives in the mill — which has been converted into an apartment building — on the second floor, the same floor where he used to work. Most recently, Stancil worked with his brother at RCB Utilities. They buried electrical and telephone cable on contract for the likes of AT&T until shutting down in 2011.
In his 57 years, it’s mostly been hard, manual labor — “bang” labor as he likes to put it.
But these jobs and the others in between have kept him steadily employed, he said, for all of his working life and he’d never been unemployed until he lost his job with RCB two years ago.
And he still isn’t unemployed, at least not until April 15.
‘You gotta do what you gotta do’
For the past two years, Stancil has been working for Liberty Tax Service in Canton during tax season as a “sign-waver.” His daughter Brandy Stancil is the office manager there and got him the job when RCB went out of business. Most days of the week from January to April, he can be seen there on Riverstone Parkway — just a few hundred yards from the cotton mill — draped in the Liberty-Tax staple Statue of Liberty costume, holding a sign and trying to wave down passersby.
Liberty Tax franchise owner Ginger Povelites said sign-wavers have become an icon for her company throughout the country.
“When people see the costume,” she said. “They know it’s Liberty.”
Most importantly, though, it’s an effective method of bringing customers in the door.
Povelites said that national polls show that 80 percent of Liberty Tax’s business can be attributed to sign-wavers like Stancil.
She’s also done her own in-store polls and when her customers are asked how they heard about her business, the numbers match the national numbers.
“Eight out of 10 people say ‘I saw your guy out on the street,’” she said.
So, to keep the customers coming, Povelites said she likes to always have a body out on the corner waving them in.
“I’ve even been out there,” she said. It may seem like a cutand- dry way to make a living and, Povelites said, in some ways it is, but there are a lot of factors to keep in mind. Company protocol with Liberty Tax is to show all new sign-wavers an instructional video which lays out regulations on where they can stand and some special expectations of the job: saluting police officers and firemen and tipping their hat to the elderly. They also are taught to be prepared to deal with passersby who might feel compelled to have fun at their expense.
“If somebody flips them off,” she said, “they’re supposed to pretend it’s like they’re saying, ‘You’re number one.’” Stancil said he’s had his own issues with people taunting him, but it doesn’t phase him.
“They’ll say, ‘Look at that fool there holding that sign, look at that idiot,’” he said. “But that’s just part of it. You gotta do what you gotta do.” But, all the same, it’s a job and Stancil said he’s happy to have it.
Steady and happy
Come April 15, Stancil will find himself without a job once again as tax season closes. And, unless the trend of the past two years changes, he won’t have any more steady work until Black Friday when he’ll don his Santa hat and stand in front of a department store ringing a bell for Salvation Army.
Stancil said he’s enjoyed working for Salvation Army and has gotten several bonuses for collecting sizable donations. But he’s hoping it isn’t the next work he sees and he’ll start looking immediately. “I’m gonna hit it hard, looking,” he said.
In the future Stancil said he’d like to find something more long term or at least something where he can be inside and not have to work in whatever weather the day throws at him.
Stancil said what he wants is simple.
“I just wanna be steady and be happy,” he said.