Unemployment Blues: The Newbie, Part I

With high unemployment and chronic unemployment becoming the norm, people who never thought they would have to turn to the government for help are now doing so in record numbers.


The new face of poverty in America has a decidedly middle class appearance.


People that have never been laid off incorrectly assume a few things:



I've paid into the system my whole life so I should be able to receive temporary assistance when I need it.


The government may not run perfectly but it should run like any other decent sized business. 


Unfortunately, anyone who walks around with these assumptions would be wrong on both counts.


Which leads us to today's story.


While waiting in line for my appointment with my Department of Human Services caseworker, I noticed a young woman behind me.  She was impeccably groomed, attractive and casually well dressed.


"Uh oh, this one is gonna have some trouble."  I thought.


It turned out that she also had an appointment.   When the clerk asked for the letters of anyone who had a set appointment, we both stepped forward.  After strategically sitting down in the waiting area (more on that later), she and I began to chat.


She was fuming that her caseworker would not be able to get to her on-time, thereby causing her to be late to another appointment.


"Why bother making an appointment with you if they won't be on time?"


I turned to her and said, "Is this you first time here?"


"Yes," she replied.


I sighed---heavily.


"Dearest---may I call you dearest?  This place is unlike any other you've possibly ever encountered.  You should know a few things to make achieving your ultimate goal a touch easier."


"First off you're dressed too well and your makeup isn't garish.  Don't make that mistake again.  If you must wear makeup here, it has to look bad.  Throw in a head scarf and house shoes on if you really want to fit in."


"You can never look better than your caseworker.  Ever."


She looked at me like I was crazy. 


"What does what I'm wearing have to do with whether I need help or not?"


Now it was my turn to look at her like she was crazy.


"Right or wrong, the perception is if you're well dressed you have resources.  And if you have resources then you don't need the state's help.  Plus if you out dress your caseworker a good old case of envy tends to creep in."


"Additionally, never assume that you will be seen at the time of your appointment.  You should anticipate that you're gonna wait at least an hour."


"That's absolutely crazy!  How can you be seen after the time of the appointment?  No business can successfully run that way" she said.


I countered with, "Hon, this ain't a business---it's the government."   


And that's when our discussion got really interesting.

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