Maryland workers whose job is to help the poor and unemployed find work are increasingly finding themselves on the wrong side of the counter.
Last September, the Montgomery Employment Service office, funded by the federal Employment Security Administration, had 19 staff members. By the end of February it will be left with eight. In the Prince George's office only 12 of the original 18 employes will remain.
Meanwhile, unemployment levels throughout the state continue to rise. Managers of the Montgomery and Prince George's offices said this week the cuts will mean they will be able to place far fewer unemployed in jobs. As a result, the jobless workers will spend more time on welfare or unemployment benefits.
Harry T. Hammann, director of Employment Service in Maryland, called next month's cut of 200 employes statewide "penny wise and pound foolish."
"It seems ironic to cut employment services to all the people who will be affected by these federal cutbacks. You would think they would want to keep the service intact," said Sarah Browne, manager of the Prince George's office, who added, "It's a very difficult thing to discuss with your staff: how to go about filing an unemployment claim."
Last year, the Employment Service placed 34,000 Marylanders in jobs. More than 6,000 of these were women receiving Aid for Families with Dependent Children, Hammann said. In Prince George's and Montgomery, about 3,600 people found jobs through the service.
James L. Parkins, manager of the Montgomery office, said the number of unemployed placed in jobs by his office will probably drop by the same proportion as the number of staff workers: more than 50 percent. Last year, he said, the Montgomery office found jobs for 1,800 people.
In November, the last month for which official figures are available, unemployment in Montgomery and Prince George's reached 4.8 percent. Although this was considerably lower than the statewide average of 7.9 percent, it was the highest unemployment level since the 1975-76 recession, according to Employment Security Administration analyst Dolores Paunil. Last November the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in the two counties.
Paunil said it will get worse, especially for federal employes affected by RIFs. Last year, she said, most employes laid off could find other positions in the government. One agency RIFed 700 employes, she said, but only 10 of them failed to find other government jobs. "It won't be like that now," she said.
Browne said her office will take any administrative shortcuts it can get away with, and provide less counseling to unemployed job seekers. "All the professionals are going to have to absorb the clerical duties," she said.
Parkins said the situation could be helped substantially if his small remaining staff could be relieved of the large amount of documentation required by the federal government.
"We're running a paper mill," he complained. "These are times when we're really strapped to do the jobs for human beings, not for the bureaucrats. . . . I'm sure someone enjoys the historical value of all this; it may have some impact on planning. But it doesn't help find jobs for people. We have to rethink the whole thing."
At the state Employment Service office in Baltimore, rethinking the whole thing is precisely what is going on, according to Hammann.
"With the magnitude of the cuts, it will require us to change our method of operation," he said. Efforts are under way now to reduce the volume of paperwork, he said, and to redefine the function of individual offices. "We're going to have to become more of an information type office than an actual job-match service."
For those without stoical patience, local Employment Service offices already have been reduced to information-only offices. Ronald Glover of Riverdale, who said he had held five jobs in the last year, argued it was not worth the time to wait in the line. "I just come in and look at what's listed on the board," he said. "Then I leave. You hear about more jobs on the street."
There is a line for everything in the office, and none moves fast. William DeAtley, who lost the job he held for 24 years when a meat-packing plant closed Oct. 30, said he waited 3 1/2 hours to sign for an unemployment insurance check that for some reason did not come by mail. He said it took about 10 seconds to fill out the form.
John Ford of Riverdale, who recently left the Army, went to the Prince George's office in College Park this week to look for a job. He arrived at 8:30 a.m., he said, but by 11 he was still sitting at the back of the room waiting for his turn.
He said he was optimistic about getting a job, and patient about getting to the front of the line. To give him strength, he brought his sister Antionette, who found a job cleaning office buildings through the Employment Service earlier this month. She said she had to wait only an hour and a half for an interview.
Meanwhile, Kevin White of Bowie sat reading a newspaper as he waited to inquire about jobs. He said he had been laid off from a cable television job in Anne Arundel County last Friday because of bad weather. He said he did not expect to obtain a job through the Employment Service but would try anyway.
"If you come in here, you have to plan to stay the whole day," he said. "It's like working 9 to 5." White arrived at the office at 8:20 a.m., he said. By 11:30 he had reached the sports pages, but not the front of the line.