Feb 17, 2003
Late in January, a line of people filing for unemployment still had not been taken care of by 3 p.m. at a Michigan state unemployment office in the city of Dearborn. When the office announced no more applications would be accepted, the crowd surged in.
A security guard who was trying to hold the crowd back had a heart attack and died.
There are more and more people who need state services and can't get them, not only in Michigan but in nearly every state. Unemployment is high and rising, far higher than the official rose-colored statistics. With higher unemployment comes more need for welfare services, for services for children, for mental health services, for emergency housing and food rations.
But while the needs have been rising, the number of state workers who are supposed to fill those needs has been falling. In Michigan, there has been little hiring for years. Staffs have dwindled as few new hires replaced those who left. This meant departments loaded with high seniority people under more and more pressure.
Then the state offered an early retirement option. A large number of people took that option – and most have not been replaced. Staffs are overwhelmed. Even the automated call-in service to register for weekly unemployment is failing under the load. Workers lose their benefits if they do not register regularly by phone – but the phone system often does not work!
No wonder that frustration is high on all sides, leading to a near riot in a Dearborn office and a guard's fatal heart attack.
But those who end up paying the price for this mess should not be the guard, or the people in the line, or the too-small office staff, or the workers who can't get a phone call through. Those responsible are the politicians who have shorted human services while funneling state money to all kinds of casinos, airports, stadiums, and other playthings of the rich.
Those same politicians might suddenly find money for basic services if all those people not being served rushed into an office a little higher up – the governor's, for example.