Monday, January 4, 2010


This morning I went to the unemployment office to see if I could extend the benefits I get here in the U.S. At the front desk, where I had paid several visits in the past, the woman gave me a sheet on which to write my Social Security number and a short description of what I was after.

After filling out the form, I asked the woman how long I might have to wait. The waiting-area chairs were filled with people. The woman said I was number 18 on the list. "So I should probably come back this afternoon?" I asked. "No," she said, "it'll be sometime this morning. We have two people processing claims."

Two people.

On previous visits, it had always been just one woman whose pleasant patience in the face of a tsunami of work had impressed me. Now it was two people.

I did the approximate math of 15 minutes per person and left the office. When I returned, I had just missed my turn and the woman said I would be next. I waited 10 minutes and the same pleasantly-patient woman I had dealt with in the past worked her magic on the computer.

I left the office satisfied and somehow sad:

Two people doing the work one had done before.

I'm not sure that the chirpy optimisms emanating from Washington are really warranted.

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