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My Visit to the Unemployment Office

April 17th, 2008 · 29 Comments · Sports Journalism, The Sun

They handle most of this unemployment stuff over the internet now. The signing up, the form-filling, the fact-checking. Which is convenient, because as someone who never has been unemployed, I really didn’t want to make lots of trips to DMV-type settings and hang out with other jobless folk eager to get themselves on the dole. A sort of Protestant work ethic/middle-class sense of shame and resentment was at play. “I am not like you … but apparently I am.”

I signed up online. I created a resume online. I actually received my first unemployment check without having to leave my home.

But I suspected that, eventually, I would have to go to some shabby government building and make a personal appearance, and this was the day.

Among the pile of materials I received from the state government, via U.S. mail, was a sheet entitled, “Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment Appointment Notice.”

“Failure to Attend This Appointment May Affect Your Eligibility to Receive Unemployment Insurance Benefits,” was the drop hed, as we would say on the layout desk.

So, there I was, at an office called, in a marvelous euphemism, the “Torrance WorkSource Center,” pulling open the door and expecting to see mobs of the great unwashed waiting to have their out-of-work status confirmed/trumpeted.

Well, turns out, the mobs were something like five people … who were outnumbered by employees in the big room. Which was, in fact, DMV-like in its appearance, with dog-earned announcements and colorful pamphlets pinned to the wall in big, glassed-in cases, and the usual desk to sign in and the U.S., state and MIA-POW flags hanging hither and yon and a sort of barricade separating government workers from citizens.

But it was no mob scene. I saw one woman talking to the guy at the reception desk (“I want to work, you know? I do!”), one or two people over to the left inside some anteroom (the computer room, it turns out) and three people sitting at a desk, waiting for someone to come talk to them. And that was all. You’d think the region’s entire unemployed population numbers in … the dozens.

I liked that. Thing is, you want your money ($405 per week, after withholding), but you don’t want to feel as if all of Southern California is there to see you ask for it.

I suppose lots of people have been on unemployment. Real people who had real jobs and not just idlers and slackers. But it’s a hard image to overcome, the sense of “you must be a loser or you wouldn’t be here.” Hell, I thought that myself the years and years I drove past the Unemployment Office on Fifth Street in San Bernardino and looked at the dead-enders loitering around. Well, they had to be dead-enders, didn’t they?

I had a government-set “appointment” for 4 p.m. Luckily, the case workers were running late (and really, why should anybody there be in a hurry?), because as I sat at the waiting table I realized I hadn’t read every last sentence of the reams of material I had been sent. At the bottom of the “Appointment Notice” was a paragraph noting that “California law requires … proof of legal status and authorization to work prior to receiving services. On the reverse is the list of acceptable documents. You must bring your documents to the interview.”

So, I flipped the page over (everything is printed on both sides these days), and saw a page I hadn’t read. Basically, I had to have an original Social Security card, as well as a picture ID, such as a driver’s license. I had the license, of course; I needed it for the half-hour drive over to Torrance from Long Beach. But I don’t carry around my Social Security card. I’m not sure I have the original, actually.

So I scanned the list for acceptable alternative documents, which include a birth certificate or passport. Don’t carry those, either. I was faced with a situation, then, where I might be sent off because I hadn’t bothered to wade through every last page of the documents I had been sent. And that was going to be really annoying.

(The ease of registering for unemployment online is balanced by the sheer mass of material the California “Employment Development Department” sends back to you. They must shed X percent of potential unemployment-eligible people due to their inability to fill out all the forms. Which probably is their plan. Turns out, I also had failed to fill out a two-sided sheet in which I had to list my job preferences, and where I was looking for work, etc. I filled that out as I sat there, waiting for someone to come fetch me from their cubicles. The result being, even though you can do this stuff online, there is quite a LOT of it to do, and all of it somewhere has a threat along the lines of “failure to do this could result in a delay in your benefits” or some such.)

Maybe 15 minutes later, a young guy, maybe 27, 28, wearing the government-worker uniform of slacks, a long-sleeved, pastel-colored shirt and tie (but no coat) came out and invited me into a cubicle. The name on the wall was “Somebody Ueberroth”, and I was prepared to ask him if he were related to Peter Ueberroth, who headed up the L.A. oganizating committee for the 1984 Olympics.

But this was a guy just using someone else’s office. No relation to Peter. No apparent sense of humor, either. This was a guy who didn’t really want to chat.

He took the form I had just filled out. He asked if I had my Social Security card. The original (which would be 40-something years old, if I still have it), and I said no and cringed at the expectation that I would be sent packing to come back at some later date with my passport or birth certificate. But the guy just asked if I had a driver’s license. Of course I did. And the “interview” progressed.

He looked at my sheet. “Journalist, huh? And that’s the field you would like to continue in?” And I said, well, yes, for now, I would like to see if I can remain in the field. “It’s in some distress,” I offered.

This was news to him. “They’re laying off people … in journalism?” And I said, “Well, yes, seems like about half the workforce.” He was spectacularly disinterested. So from that point on I just answered his questions and volunteered nothing. “Did you create a resume on the caljobs website?” Well, yes, I did, and I held up my one-page resume printout. Unpersuaded by this palpable evidence, he typed in my case number, to make sure my resume was in the computer, and it popped up, and he seemed satisfied.

He was officially pleased that I had noted, on the form I had just filled out, that I have my own car and am willing “to travel some distance for new work. That’s good.” Figure about five minutes of uncomfortable chit-chat, him at least as uncomfortable as me (maybe because it was like his dad had showed up at the office?) … and finally he asked, “Do you have any other questions?”

Well, I had one, and it seemed a good time to ask. I know how much I am to receive, while out of work — $450 per week, gross. And on one of the earlier forms I had received, it listed the length of time I could receive benefits at one year. Yet I had read somewhere else that my maximum unemployment “benefit” was $11,000 — and that works out to about 24 weeks at $450 per — not quite half a year.

So, yes, he said, the $11,000 is my maximum number. I can blow right through it in 24.4 weeks, or get it over an entire year if some pittance of earnings from piece work generates some other form of income … and slows my climb to the $11,000 max. OK, got it.

Oh, and I just remembered: While talking about my job search, the young man noted that I was responsible for checking with at least three potential employers each week to continue receiving unemployment checks. Which seems a fairly high threshold in a imploding industry. (Inside my head I was thinking, “Three a week? I could exhaust every news organization in SoCal in a month.”) But we didn’t dwell on this. It was as if both of us knew it was part of a sort of shell game … I would pretend to look for nonexistent jobs and the state would pretend to be satisfied by my efforts.

On the way out, he gave me a sheet listing “50 Top Job Websites” … and mentioned the center’s resource room (online capability, and all), and noted that for any future dealings I could visit the office in Long Beach at the corner of Atlantic and Wardlow, or about five minutes from where I live; it never was clear why I had to be in Torrance at all.

And as a parting shot, perhaps divining that my background didn’t include long stints on the dole, nor any recent stints in the fast-food industry, he hopped over to another table and picked up a sheet explaining how to join the “South Bay Professional Association” job club. He said something like, “I don’t think you’re looking for an entry-level job, so you may want to consider joining the SBPA.”

And what is the SBPA? I quote from the first paragraph of the flier. “(SBPA) members represent many professions including administration, management, finance, personnel, education, engineering, marketing, accounting, computer technology, scientific endeavors and other disciplines. In other words, we are just like you: Looking for work in our occupations!”

And under “About SBPA,” the members have written, “Join our Job Club — We always have room for new members!”

Ah, so cheery. The SBPA is about the “many professional, managerial and technical workers who, like most of us, have unexpectedly found themselves out of work (and) are now working together, helping each other find new employment opportunities. Our self-help and support group also provides meeting and research space, computer equipment, telephones and a staff specialist.”

The SBPA meets every second Wednesday, there in Torrance. Which is grand, but I don’t really live there and I seriously doubt they are good at turning up journalism jobs. And I also had this vision of the club’s “best” members as being the chronically unemployed. That is, people you don’t really want to hang with — even if they were aerospace engineers until a few years ago.

So I took these sheets of paper and waited to be released from the whole disconcerting experience. And finally the young guy said, “Well, I think we’ve covered everything. I’ll mark you down as having attended.” Which was the point of the whole exercise. Proof I had complied with the latest EDD directive.

I’m hoping I won’t have to go back. That I can just fill out the “employers I spoke with” forms, send them in and get my $450 (gross) per week … until I’m on someone’s payroll or the $11,000 runs out.

Since unemployment is paid by my former employer — that is, MediaNews — I can’t really say I’m in a hot-hell hurry to get off the dole. I wouldn’t mind taking another $11,000 from Dean Singleton. Though I suppose I can let him slide if something interesting pops up.

I’m in the system now. Which I never thought would happen to me. Not after three decades of glowing performance evaluations. But there you are. I guess unemployment isn’t the same as plain ol’ welfare … but I have to at least wonder if I’ve taken the first step to “Welfare King” status. I hope not to stick around long enough to find out.


29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 JB // May 7, 2008 at 6:21 PM

    Hey – thanks for the humorous description of your EDD office visit! I have a required meeting come May 20th. and I wasn’t sure why I am required to go but your explanation made it crystal clear. I too thought if I just filled out the paperwork and listed the sites and recruiters I talked to that I could receive my checks until I got off the “dole”. No, this appointment gives someone a job with the state so I will do my part 🙂

    Good luck with your job search!

  • 2 Jennwill // Sep 30, 2008 at 11:43 AM

    This was rather helpful. Out of curiousity how long did it take you to get your first check? Was it the 10 days after turning in your application that I hear they promise?

  • 3 SHillyer // Apr 16, 2009 at 5:20 PM

    Friday I joined the unemployed. Yep a raise and positive review in January and unemployed in April. As I sort out this new direction I’d like to meet positive like minded folks going through the same and making the most out of the situation. I live in downtown Long Beach (my building is at turn 9 of the Grand Prix this weekend) but spending my days at the Library in Rolling Hills. Any insight you can share would be greatly appreciated. Hope this post finds you gainfully employed!!! Thanks for the great read.

  • 4 Summer // Dec 5, 2009 at 3:54 PM

    Thanks for your article. My appointment is on Friday and I was nervous about getting grilled…good to know it’ll be easier than I imagined!

  • 5 Tambria // Mar 1, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    I live in Glendale and I am wondering if you know of any support groups of folks that are unemployed that meet to support and network and help each other with motivation and accountability. I am a part-time property manager but my paying job I was laid off from last Feb. and I did well for a few months looking and revising resumes and getting out there, but somewhere last summer I bottomed out in energy and hope, and I sporadically look now. I’m trying to get back in the swing of looking more regularly and I also am pursuing going back to school. However the day to day facing of this issue and trying to constructively structure my time and days feels overwhelming any thoughts or specifically any groups out there? thanks

  • 6 traysee // May 27, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    Thanks for the detailed information! I, like SHillyer was on the same boat….promoted and given a rave review and then nine months later – laid off. Hope you are employed now~

  • 7 Angela // Feb 3, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    I just got back from an “assessment” meeting. Basically, they gathered like 15 people in a room and lectured us on the ways to find a job with a powerpoint… WASTE OF MY DAY! But, whatever keeps the money coming my way until I find a job.

  • 8 Gina Starks // Mar 30, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Excellent writing! Hope you find work as a journalist!

  • 9 brent Vincent // Apr 24, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    What a piece of work this country has become.All this reemployment class was developed for is tokeep their jobs.We the people are not ignorant as they think.These bastards need to back off and let us alone.We have earned the right to sit at home for awile after the many years of sweated blood.,But yet these bastards look down on us as if it is our fault we are umemployed.A civil war is im the making to rid the vermon such as this and I cant wait

  • 10 RosaP // May 1, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    Thank you for your personal experience with the reemployment and eligibility assessment. I received the letter of appointment scheduled for May 12th and was concerned about it since I don’t know anyone who’s received it. Thank you for easing our minds by sharing with us.

  • 11 Lee // Jul 18, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    Thank you for the article. You just calmed my anxiety of getting this exact same letter in the mail. It’s been a long time since you wrote this and you are an exceptional writer…I am guessing you are doing well for yourself right now. Good for you.


    P.S. Oh yeah, can you get me a job? Thaaaaaanks!

  • 12 Ericka // Jul 18, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    hi. my question is, do they really look into where you applied?

  • 13 Combat Pack // Aug 2, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    So is this just like a formality or does your eligibility really depend on your answers? I am nervous since they denied me benefits once ( I claimed to be self-employed but the truth is I sell a few things on eBay here and there only) so I appealed telling them it was not my main source of income and they sent me a letter that they retracted their decision and was now approved. A week later I got the letter for the appointment so now I am not sure if I have to prove that my eBay sales are so small that I should still qualify, I should’ve never said I was self-employed.

  • 14 christine // Sep 12, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    Great read,,,I am on my way to a 1:30 appt…..sigh

  • 15 Thank you! // Oct 28, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    You could not have described the process any better. Thank you for the information. Now I know what to expect.

  • 16 JCB // Dec 4, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    I’ve been on UI benefits a year and just got my REA notice for an appt in 10 days. I had shelled out several thousand dollars to get some retraining, but the new field seems as saturated as where I was.

    Up to now, my UI experience has been uneventful. The REA notice said, “You will meet with a member of our staff who will also assist you in developing a customized plan to assess your labor market options and will work with you on a continuing basis. You will be given in-depth services that will help you become more competitive in today’s labor market.”

    Does this mean they’re actually going to help me get re-employed, or just micromanage me from here on out until I trip up on something that gets me kicked off benefits? I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who’s been through this.

  • 17 nina // Feb 7, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    I have the interview tomorrow & this has helped alleviate some of the stress . Initially felt like I was asking for a hand-out…my pride initially couldn’t take the thought of being on unemployment. Have not been working since November of 2011, and currently caring for my grandmother…so will need the extra money to get by. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • 18 Craig // Jun 15, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Thanks so much for taking time to do this. Relieves so much tension.

  • 19 MS // Aug 10, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Thanks for the article and time. Greatly appreciated

  • 20 ProudVeteran // Aug 28, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    My REA appointment was this morning. After I logged in at the desk, we were separated into two groups, those with the certificate attesting that they had viewed the video, and those without. These latter were taken off to see the video. All others went into a room where they were given a 5-10 minute lecture. Then a lady reviewed our paperwork and took what she needed to keep. Did not even look at my meticulous log of job applications performed. I showed my birth cert. and state ID and was told my interview was complete. I would say it was a 25 minute process if that and I honestly believe that the EDD persons involved were perfunctorily going through various motions; the whole thing was far more laidback than I was led to believe that it would be.

  • 21 LJRowe // Oct 11, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    Yup! I missed my important REA and Oregon unemployment held my check!! Actually, just a steno error . . . I thought the appointment was 10/10 when it was actually 10/2. Now I must go to my unemployment office within five days and eat crow to be reinstated. OH WOE IS ME!

  • 22 Unemployed MBA // Oct 11, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    Paul, I Googled Remployment and Eligibility Assessment after opening my own REA letter just a few minutes ago. Your page was the first non-EDD page that popped up.

    I really appreciate you writing this. I too, after years of glowing performance evaluations and being at the same company for over five years found myself, for the first time since college, unemployed. I too have the Protestant work ethic and receiving UI was the last thing I thought I would do in my lifetime.

    This process has been scary since I have never needed any government handouts, not even student loans. And when the REA notice came from the EDD Sacramento Adjudication Center, I was almost scared to open it.

    Thanks again and with your info, I am sure my appointment will go well. I think I may have been “sent for” because I only listed applying for two jobs a week (apparently it is supposed to be at least three, I just didn’t write them ALL down on their form every week).

    Wish me luck!

  • 23 Marie // Oct 26, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    I have been using the EDD Webcert and filling up my continued claim online. I have a personal interview with EDD coming up. My question is, does anyone here know if they would require me to provide information on all the places that I looked for work? The Webcert currently does not require you to list them but I have been recording the details but I wonder if that will become an issue during the interview. How far back will they go (if they do)?

  • 24 DaveT // Mar 28, 2013 at 12:13 AM

    I enjoyed reading your story, Paul. I have attended the requisite EDD meeting and it was pretty much as you described. It was the office in Long Beach. It had all the hallmarks of a 70s era junior college classroom…same furniture and fixtures. The place lit by the lifeless glow of florescent lights. There were about a dozen of us (the unwashed unemployed) with a perky, middle-aged EDD woman taking us through a powerpoint presentation on finding a job. Her Spanish accent was rather thick and it was hard to understand her.

    I’m supposed to use CalJobs. I’ve uploaded my resume and check for job openings. Nothing really.
    I’m a middle-aged advertising executive. A creative director. An award-winning one. After nearly thirty years working without a break, I find myself out of a job.
    The adage, “Advertising is a young man’s game” may well be true. Advertising was my career. I stupidly cling to it hoping someone will give me a second chance.
    But it, like journalism is changing. Print has been replaced by internet banner ads. And the level of copywriting has been reduced to pedantic blurbs rather than catchy headlines. It’s hard to tell a story in a banner ad the size of a postage stamp.

    My biggest problem is how to rejigger a resume that’s solely in one area of business? I’d be lying if I knew anything about hotel management or phlebotomy.

    I had thoughts of taking my copywriting skills and applying it to journalism. But it sounds like the industry you speak of is dying or at least wheezing heavily.

    As for submitting names and dates of employers I’ve submitted applications to, I’ve never run into a problem with my claim. What is hard is finding enough (three a week) to maintain the quota. The EDD has never questioned or audited my employment applications.

    What is more disappointing that filing a claim or receiving a unemployment check is getting an email back from all those prospective employers with “Sorry, we’ve looked at your resume, and at this time, we do not require your skills at the moment. Good luck with your job search.” Great. Keep looking. Until I become bankrupt.

    I hate not working. I reinvented myself once (I used to be a school teacher, but I doubt I can pass the new credential tests, besides, teachers are being laid off.)

    Wish me luck.

  • 25 J k // Jun 26, 2013 at 5:47 AM

    This appointment is complete bs. It’s just another way for them to revoke your benefits, just like their horrible phone system. Edd would really like to not pay the hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers . Well , it’s your $ . You paid into, go to the lame appt and collect it. Such a waist of gas & time.

  • 26 Bob Brown // Feb 24, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    I too have been in and out of work ever since 2009. Each time getting laid off when the business either collapses or just cant afford to keep me on payroll. Filing for EDD benefits. over and over makes one feel like the heel of society, but I have to keep squeaking by and paying my mortgage. In my 28 years of work, I have never had such a difficult time finding and maintaining employment. I’m keep telling myself I am a victim of bad timing, but deep down I am feeling more and more like a loser. Our current president tells us about al these jobs that have been created, but I have only seen businesses close in the Yuba and Sutter county areas in Northern California. People tell me I have to commute to find work, but why is that? Why should people have to commute away form home to earn money? After all, we spend money here don’t we? I have gone form being a car mechanic, to a Law Enforcement Officer, to an armed Security guard, to a loss prevention agent at Wal Mart, to Looking for television cable services thieves, back to an armed security guard, to performing MINIMAL apartment maintenance for slum lord to not cleaning toilets on call at the local school district. Working on call for the school is difficult because you only work when they have someone out sick or on vacation. I guess my point is that our current employment stats are flawed. Our government feeds us BS that is not true. I only wish jobs would return to where I live so I don’t have to pack up and move just to find work again.

  • 27 sbaker // Oct 19, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    My first time being on Oregon Unemployment. I have been since August. I had my person to personERA interview on 8/25/2015 and than I got a letter saying I needee to do a phone interview. That just cover how my job serch was doing and I do my unemploy online and can look at what you did for jobs serach and look at your resume. I just got another letter saying I need to to do another phone interview I have 10/19 to 10/23 to complete it.

    Anyone know how many interviews they do????

  • 28 Stephany // May 30, 2018 at 5:06 PM

    Great read….. I googled you and find that you are, indeed, employment all these years later in an interesting part of the world and out hiking in another one.

    Thanks for doing this.

  • 29 Bruce B. // Mar 14, 2019 at 10:06 PM

    Loved the story! Your description is almost how I imagine my upcoming appointment w/ EDD would be like (except for the small number of ppl in the office). However, yours is much more entertaining.


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