He had made the shameful decision years before.....to swallow his pride and apply for State Unemployment benefits.
To think it had come to that. There he was....about to ask, perhaps even beg the State to help him find work. Lane Tipton was shaking his head at the thought of it as he left the Mission House. Starting toward the State Employment Office he was processing distasteful recollections of the last time he had faced that sort of defeat.
Three years before, in the early months of what would be called the Great Recession, he had agonized for days before finally giving in. To be sure, it had gone against everything he believed in ....about himself, who he was, and what he ought to do. Yet on that occasion he had finally set his pride aside and applied for State Unemployment benefits at the Medford office.
He had felt the shame of that decision on that first morning, and for every one of the fifty-two weeks until his benefits expired. Yet, though he had been thoroughly disappointed in himself, there was no denying the sad reality....for all those months it was what he called ‘the dole,’ a government handout, that had kept him afloat.
For one who had always earned his own way, and assumed he always would, it had been a painful shock...the realization that in the face of an economy gone wrong, he needed ‘their’ help. More to the point, he was certain he knew exactly why he was in that sad situation.
The root cause of his distress was so simple. No one would give him a chance to show what he could do. For all practical purposes the system that was intended to offer opportunity was broken.
In those dark and trying times it felt as though the rules had changed....as if he had spent a lifetime learning the right answers, only to find they were asking new and different questions. The lessons he had learned as a young man seemed to no longer apply.
Now, walking through the still-quiet business district, Lane recognized recurring hints of that earlier disappointment. True, some things were different this time. In particular, Sally was on hand to provide the backstopping support that had not been part of his Medford experience. Yet the same need to prove himself remained. He had something to offer. If the Employment Office staffers were as professional as they claimed to be, they would surely see that.
He remembered recent televised news reports of how, in spite of the dreadful job situation, some employers were eager to hire those with critical, hard-to-find skills. He recalled taking comfort in that possibility, accepting it as something that ought to work in his favor.
The logic of it was so obvious. Who needed sales help more than a company that was laying off employees because its sales were falling? Wasn’t that the perfect opportunity for someone like him, who had always been able to sell most anything to anyone?
He had made that his life’s work. His resume offered proof of that. Now the task at hand was to convince the Employment Office people that he deserved a chance to show what he could do.
Turning into the bulky granite-gray office building, Lane stopped in the lobby to study the roster of agencies and room numbers. In a matter of seconds he located the Employment Office....in Room 314. He decided against taking the elevator and climbed the stairs to the third floor. At Room 314 he entered through the heavy hardwood door to find himself in the slightly surreal world of the Tanner branch of the State Employment Department.
There, as in every State agency, budget-induced personnel reductions had taken their predictable toll. The downsized staff was struggling mightily to serve an ever-growing tide of job seekers competing for the increasingly-scarce job openings. At first glance the mathematics of it were not encouraging. Yet like Lane, the eager candidates continued to arrive, hoping to be the exception that proved the rule.
The Employment Office itself was a sparse ‘take a number’ enterprise. By nine-fifteen, when Lane arrived, a dozen or more clients were waiting in the crowded, yet eerily-quiet reception area. At the front desk a lone receptionist repeated over and over, “Please take a number.”
Lane took a number....number twenty-three to be exact....along with the four-page application form the lady handed him. A few minutes spent scanning the job postings displayed on the side wall produced nothing of interest. As near as he could tell no one was looking for sales or marketing help. By the time he retreated to a seat to fill out the wordy form, he was wondering what to make of his chances.
Forty-five minutes later he would learn the bitter truth. The modern-day State Employment Office had become little more than a data-collection site. The short-handed, overworked staff spent its time gathering information, entering that detail in their computers, and offering their non-too-encouraging apologies.
Lane’s number was called and he was directed to a cubicle on the far wall. The name plate on the modest desk identified Mr. Tim McDowell - Employment Counselor, though for a couple minutes Mr. McDowell was nowhere to be seen.
When the Counselor finally arrived he offered an unsmiling “Good Morning” and reached for Lane’s application and resume. He spent all of thirty seconds reviewing the lengthy forms, then set them aside and began poking at his computer keyboard.
“Nope,” the Counselor muttered under his breath. From all appearances he was talking to the computer screen. A moment later he turned back to Lane.
“I’m afraid there are no orders for sales help, unless you’re interested in selling hamburgers.” For the first time, to Lane’s chagrin, the fellow was actually grinning at his own lame joke.
“What do you mean ‘no orders’? Everyone needs salesmen.”
“That may be, but no one is looking to hire them right now,” Mr. McDowell explained. “You see, that’s what we do here. We fill orders from businesses who are looking for particular skills. We maintain files of qualified applicants, like yourself, for employers to review when they need to hire.
"If someone in the Tanner area is looking for the kind of marketing you do, they go to our website and call up the files of people looking for that kind of work.”
“But there’s no one looking now?” Lane asked, unwilling to let Mr. McDowell steer them away from his particular application. “Not a single company is looking for sales help?”
“Not the kind of sales you do?”
“But I can do any kind of sales. Anything they want.”
“If you’d like to revise your application, to add other marketing skills, that’s allowable. But the process remains the same. As you can imagine, at times like this there are a lot of people looking for work....and very few employers who are hiring.”
For an instant Lane thought he saw the counselor set aside his practiced indifference as he explained, “It’s a very hard time. People are worried. More than a few have just stopped trying.”
He stopped short and for a moment looked away. Then, with a deep breath he recovered his professional expression and prepared to move on to the next client.
“Your work history and contact information will be entered in our data base," he explained. It will be available to any employer looking for those qualifications. You’re always welcome to check out the employment listings on our website. For now, that’s the best we can do.”
By then Lane’s dour resignation was showing. “That’s it?” he asked without enthusiasm.
Mr. McDowell nodded as he got to his feet. Without a parting word he walked from the cubicle to the front counter, ready to summon his next client. Following the counselor’s lead, Lane retreated to the reception area and beyond to the outer hall.