Eunetta King, a single parent and the mother of two, said months of no work, mounting bills and worries about being able to sustain her family has led her into a nightly habit: the taking of Valium to help her sleep.
Jefferson Hicks, a hard-working father of three and proud of his role of provider, still awakens by habit at 5 every morning only to remember that he must occupy his day with yard work or drive around the area in a fruitless search for work.
Both parents were among a number of people, who waited for checks yesterday at the District of Columbia's unemployment compensation office and spoke of their anger, restlessness, depression or frustration after months of unemployment.
They joined hundreds of others in long lines waiting for unemployment benefits, giving flesh to cold, hard statistics that hold that for many in the city, jobs are hard to find.
The most recent unemployment figures available for the city indicate a slowly climbing unemployment rate that stood at 6.5 percent at the end of february, up from 6.4 for january. That meant 20,000 people were looking for work in January, and 20,200 in February.
"You walk into a place, and before you get a word out of your mouth to ask for a job, they say they don't have anything," said Hicks, a stocky man from Raleigh, N.C., who lives in Northeast Washington. "It's really very frustrating."
Raging inflation has forced the employed to alter their lifestyles by cutting back, doing without some luxuries and in many cases seeking part-time jobs. The money pinch they feel is even greater, of course, for the Kings and the Hickses.
"Inflation often creates a stressful situation," said Stefan Pasternack, associate clinical professor at Georgetown University who specializes in the study of violent and depressive behavior.
"When there are events beyond a person's control, those events sometimes stimulate adaptiveness; but oftentimes, when people feel they have no influence over world events, they feel depressed," Pasternack said.
"If you have a solid life situation, if you have reserves and resources, you might be okay. But if you're on the bottom line, you really feel it and clinical studies show that," he said. "The result is anxieties, sleeplessness, irritability, quarrelsomeness."
King, a District Heights resident who said she worked in the District for the Federal National Mortgage Association, worries about the effect that her unemployment may have on her children.
"My oldest son now gets free meals at school and the children tease him about that," King said. "It's not something that i would like.
"I have a house, a mortgage and bills," she said. "Sometimes because of the pressures, I snap at my kids, but I really don't mean to."
At the city's unemployment compensation office yesterday, processing clerks said they, too, see the signs of tension and frustration.
"What you hear a lot of is, "There's nothing out there," said one claims examiner who asked not to be identified.
Down the line from her, in the room resembling an elementary school gymnasium, a gray-haired examiner in the initial claims section droned the names "Perkins, Reynolds, Williams" and as they rose, three others previously standing took their seats.
A young woman in leather deck shoes, a navy blue crewneck sweater, blue corduroy pants, round black glasses and carrying a leather briefcase stood asleep in line. Others read paperback novels, swapped stories or stared glaringly ahead -- all of them waiting.
"When i go to an interview, I'm nervous and anxious," said Annie Ward, 27, an Oxon Hill resident with one child. "They make you think that you're going to get the job, then they say they will call you. But you sit by the phone and they never call.
"I feel like I am wasting my talents," Ward said. "I'm not a lazy person. During the past four months, I have applied everywhere, but nobody phones back. I've been looking for clinical work, driving a truck, working for Metro, anything. But employers say there is a freeze [on hiring] or nothing is available.
"During the day, I get disgusted," she said. "I feel useless, and I get tired of telling my friends that I cannot do something because i don't have any money."
According to unemployment compensation officials, hostility from claimants is on the increase. Officials said they have also noticed that professionals are staying on the unemployed rolls longer than before.
"It used to be a time when the professionals would generally be on our rolls for three, maybe four weeks before finding a job, but now it often is more than a month," said Gurtie Brooks, office manager here for the compensation office.
"Professionals tell our employes that they are told they are overqualified for jobs, which seems to be an indication that professionals are willing to take a job now of lower pay or skill requirements," Brooks said.
"Everybody wants to have money," said Robert Travers, a northeast Washington resident and construction worker who said he has not yet begun to worry.
"I know it's hard for some people, and if a job doesn't come soon, it's going to be hard for me, too," he said. "Some men take to drinking, some take to other things, some get angry. But people are going to hustle, anything to survive. It's all about survival."