Robert Pollock, an interviewer for the Virginia Employment Commission, has been on both sides of the unemployment counter. Last winter he was riffed and didn't work for five weeks. Now he is sitting behind the counter and remembers what it was like to be out of a job.
"The feelings are strange about being riffed," said Pollock. "Some decision has been made on high; you are no longer needed. I am certainly more empathic than before." But he has been able to maintain his calm through both circumstances.
Erratic behavior, such as the carpenter who aimed a lemon meringue pie at an unemployment clerk in Florida earlier this week, apparently hasn't happened in this area.
The jobless numbers have steadily increased this year, but relationships between the public and the clerks in the local unemployment offices seem to be routine.
"Thank goodness we haven't had much of that," said Hazel Davis, who has worked for the D.C. Department of Employment Services for 16 years. "We had one woman who came in the door crying."
"We see a lot of discouragement," said Pollock. "Sometimes there is anger, sometimes directed at the employment commission. We do become the outlet for people's frustrations.
"But there is a lot of sharing of personal problems, discussion of alimony, repossession of cars, mortgage payments. I think this is a kind of motivation for us to work harder."
Desperation, anxiety, frustration -- all kinds of personal devastation -- are obvious being felt by the unemployed, personnel in the three local offices agreed. But talking seems to be the choice therapy of the unemployed. A few people get loud but they rarely disrupt the office.
"They don't get that emotional," said Robert Labosky, an unemployment insurance supervisor for the Maryland State Department of Employment Security in Prince George's County. "They feel we hear it often and we are not to blame."
In his private practice and counseling at two public clinics in Washington, psychiatrist Horace Green works with a range of professional and unskilled workers, many of them unemployed. They are angry, but not visibly outraged.
"Many of the people who fall into the category of being suddenly unemployed are not likely to behave in that way," he said. "They have been responsible and there is a real effort on their part to continue to be reasonable. They recognize the unemployment clerk is not their target."
The case workers return some homespun advice. Davis recalled one recent occasion in her office in Anacostia: "One woman in her early 30s had lost her mother, brother and job within a three-week period. I told her, and this may sound foolish, 'Everything is bad right now but out of every bad comes some good. Later on, a year from now, the sun is going to be shining so bright,' and she smiled."
The unemployment personnel who are also feeling pressure with the increased workload, occasional longer hours and little positive feedback, are also part of Davis' concern. "I couldn't say we haven't had moments when some of the employes haven't been frustrated because of the heavy claim load," said Davis. "When people feel down, I bring them in and we chat about it. When a person tells you what is on their mind, sometimes they feel better."
One of Davis' more troublesome interviews had an upbeat ending. One man at the Anacostia office was upset because he felt it was taking too long to check his out-of-state employment record. When she explained the process, he calmed down.
He still doesn't have a job, but he sent a thank-you card.