The state of the state and hours I don’t have

I walked in around 10 a.m. The parking lot was full and there were people milling around outside the doors. A gentleman was in my path, puffing on a cigarette and I was frustrated. You can’t just not smoke for the time it takes in here? I thought. Ridiculous. I veered around him, opened the doors, and was confronted with reality.

The reality of the Unemployment Office.

More accurately, it was (and is) what is called a Problem Resolution Office. Michigan has offices located all over the place for basic things – classes on how to update your resume, job postings, computers for you to look for employment or file your claims. These offices are plenty and located pretty centrally to most places. I have one not too far from me. These offices, however, cannot answer any of your questions. At all. In fact, they’re pretty straight up about it.

When I was told in January that my job was going to eventually be reduced to part time, Human Resources was adamant about letting me know that YES! Your! Part! Time! Status! Qualifies! You! For! Partial! Unemployment!

I’d rather have a full time job, but you know, part time unemployment, that’d help.

And I filed immediately when my job finally made the transition to part time.

It’s a tedious process, and I get the necessity of that. You can open your claim online or on the phone. You can do so in person. They make a determination (Yep! You’re Eligible! or HaHaHa Sucker Too Bad So Sad!).

I did this.

They made their determination.

I jumped through all the hoops – and there are a great many hoops. You have to call or report online every two weeks to answer a series of questions. You have to actively seek employment and report that as well.

I did everything I was supposed to do, and yet…

Nothing. Nothing ever came.

And at first, I thought to myself that even just the mere act of filing would make the cosmos smile upon me and a great job would be sent my way. I’d file and then get a job and be like, “NEVER MIND!”

But that’s not happening. At least not in a time frame that is suitable for real life. And real wallets.

I walked in to the office and it was filled with people. Before walking in, I had been trying to gauge how awful the experience would be: Would it be more or less painful than Secretary of State?

Spoiler alert: SO MUCH WORSE

There were rows and rows of chairs in this plain box of a room. Nearly every chair was occupied. People lined the walls of the room, and people sat at computers spaced on either side of the room. There was a line of several stations were people from the office were assisting customers.

I grabbed a number from the ticket machine.

I was number 613.

I stood on the wall for awhile, just gazing around the room, at the people. I saw new people go up to the desk and realized I had never heard the numbers called. I approached the security guard. “How will I know what number they’re calling?” I asked. “Are they posted somewhere?”

He gestured to the wall behind me. They were on number 452.

There were 161 people ahead of me.

Chew on that, if you will.


I started watching the numbers on the wall, how they wouldn’t move. There had to be at least five workers assisting people at those stations and yet those numbers NEVER. MOVED.

He Who Makes Me So Happy (I should probably just start referring to him by name, right?) had dropped me off at the office to get some coffee while I waited, and so he joined me shortly, as I stood watching the numbers that didn’t move and the people that didn’t leave their seats.

There was a woman behind us who had brought her own lawn chair. And all I could think was, She KNEW she was in for the long haul today.

I knew it’d be busy but I was amazed at how busy. How long it took. How nothing happened.

Women with babies. A man asleep at the computer. People rotating in and out to go stand outside and smoke. The smoke break made sense to me then – that guy had probably been there for hours.

The longer I stood there, the more the experience made me angry. And the angrier I got, the sadder I felt.

I hate this process, I hate this system. I hate the economy. I hate how this office is run. I hate these drab walls and I hate this industrial carpeting. I hate these plastic chairs and I hate the humiliation.

And it’s humiliating.

None of us asked for these circumstances, I’m sure. The last thing I want is to need the unemployment check, but… I’m a single mom raising two kids and yes, I need that check. I want to go to a job every day, and work my ass off and be impressive and do work that I love, that I’m passionate about and that makes a positive contribution. I’m trying to get back to that point.

In the meantime, this is what I need to do.

The longer I stood there, the more I wanted to cry. And the fact that I wanted to cry made me mad, all of those other people bravely sitting there in their plastic chairs, on the floor (ew…), on their lawn chairs, whatever – just standing there, waiting. No one else looked like they were going to cry. What’s my problem?

We left, making sure my 613 ticket was tucked in my pocket so we could come back later.

In the thirty to forty minutes I was there, they only got through FIVE claimants. FIVE.

There were still over 150 people to be seen before it’d be my turn.

He took me for a drive in the country. Quiet roads lined with trees with changing leaves. A fox darting along the road racing ahead and then slipping into a cornfield. A lake and a park that was closed. A battered house with a wooden swing hanging from rope from a tall strong tree in the yard. A bright shining sun on a beautiful day.

I could catch my breath and see beauty and feel those feelings – the fear, the anger, the frustration – settle for a moment.

Here’s the thing.

The system is screwed. That there are THIS MANY PEOPLE needing problem resolution is a problem. This was just one day of one week of one month of one year. And if I were to walk in the doors tomorrow, I’m sure I’d find the same scene with different players.

That’s a problem.

Offices all over the state, but only a select few that can answer your questions? THAT is a problem. Why is it that I can’t visit the office near my home and get answers to my questions? Why is it I can’t just EMAIL someone?

We returned an hour later, and I got out to see what number they were on. The group of men standing by the door looked me up and down so I walked faster to peek inside the building to find that they were only on number 479. There were still over 100 people ahead of me. I gave my number ticket to someone else on the way out and left, resigned to having to come back another day, armed with books, more patience and snacks.

I feel helpless. I feel helpless and angry and frustrated. This is an ugly and difficult thing to need to do, and yet… they make it harder. Everything from the inconvenience of the office, the drab and depressing decor, the long and impossible wait times – all of it makes this time even more demoralizing, more trying.

I don’t know anyone else’s stories. I don’t know their situations. I am sure we are all different in a lot of ways, but in this way we are similar. All of us just waiting.


About sarah

Sarah is a book nerd, a music lover, an endorphin junkie, a coffee addict. Oh, and a goof ball. She writes, she tweets, and she sings off key.

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