"It really hurts your heart when you have a grown man in your office who has worked all his life, crying," said Tracy McKinney, an intake specialist at the Alamance County Department of Social Services who processes applications for public assistance. "People try to keep up appearances for as long as they can, until there's no options left."

Holt's classmate, Charles Andress, 61, is trying to avoid McKinney's desk as he balances the loss of a job he held for 25 years and obligations that he never expected to have as a grandfather. Andress was laid off from Culp Weaving in May 2007. His wife Brenda, 39, a former line supervisor at Gold Toe, lasted a year and half longer before her job was eliminated.

Another blow came when the couple took guardianship of Brenda's 2-year old grandson and 1-year-old granddaughter. They used $50,000 of their 401(k) funds, two-thirds of what they had left after Wall Street's plunge, to meet court requirements of building the children separate rooms. Their unemployment benefits expire next month, and they say they will never accept welfare.

"Once you get on that, you're dependent," Brenda Andress said in the living room of a home they can no longer afford.

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