Jack meets the unemployment culture

Episode 3

The months had been like lead weights, dragging through the days. Jack had been very uncomfortable applying for unemployment benefits, but the discomfort, if anything, was getting worse with time.

He'd got to know some of the people at the unemployment office, mainly the ones who looked as out of place as he felt.

It was a very strange place. A lot of silent people, with the low murmur of voices, occasionally a raised voice, the odd laugh, but it was like an empty room, in many ways. Nobody wanted to be there, not even the people behind the counters, who seemed to change regularly.

Jack had got to know a guy called Fred, who was in very much the same situation as Jack. They both felt like aliens in the unemployment office, which was how they got talking.

Fred had been out of work a bit longer, and had learned a lot, unwillingly, about the realities of unemployment. He'd got to know some of the other people coming in to lodge forms and deal with the bureaucracy. Jack was introduced to a few people, and the conversation, as the lines straggled to the counter, was an experience in itself.

One man had been out of work for years, with a few short term jobs breaking up the monotonous string of job applications and dole forms. There had been one incident where this man had had to explain to the unemployment clerk how a form had to be filled in, which got a laugh out of the counter staff.

A lady, who really looked like she belonged anywhere but an unemployment office, mentioned in passing she had three kids to support, and had been out of work for years. A much younger guy showed up regularly with a series of problems everyone else on the line tried not to hear. Obviously the kid was having real trouble, and a lot of it.

Bit by bit Jack built up a picture of the unemployment culture. It was a very ugly picture of lives broken up by circumstances, problems creating problems, and it was scary, as well as repulsive. Some people were extremely bitter, and if it was easy enough to understand why, Jack was having visions of himself in that mental state, years down the track.

Quite a lot of people, Jack discovered, had stories of injustices from employers, and it was pretty obvious these weren't made up tales or excuses. One man had been fired purely for personal reasons, by a vicious supervisor. A girl had been fired by her boss for not being friendly enough. A middle aged lady had been physically abused by her boss, literally slapped around.

Jack, who was pure middle class to the bone, discovered that of all the people he met at the welfare office, and in time there were many, he only ever met a couple who seemed mentally adjusted to unemployment. One was a young guy who seemed to think it was all a joke. The other was an old guy who knew it wasn't, and was grimly going through the motions without much real hope.

He hated going to the unemployment office, but every time he went there, he felt he'd learned something, which, however ugly, he needed to know. Fred became a good friend, and as it turned out later, a very reliable one. Jack never really lost his revulsion, but he got an education in human realities.

The young guy with the troubles eventually battled his way through. He never spoke to anyone but the counter staff, but Jack and Fred happened to be there when he showed up with a big grin and a job. It looked like the counter people were happy, too, they all congratulated him.

The grim old guy finally got a good job, too. The lady with the three kids started her own business, and the girl fired for not being friendly wound up working for the unemployment office.

The young guy who treated it all as a joke wound up committing suicide. They read about it in the papers. The supply of bitter people didn't seem to dry up, either. Jack met quite a few more. Unemployment, and its effect on people, is an obscene thing, a cruelty.

The experience at the unemployment office just made Jack more determined than ever to beat it.