It’s a Living: The Unemployment Line

Part of the "It's a Living" series created by Videopolis based on Studs Terkel's book Working, which focuses on workers in Chicago. This tape is the record of a single hour at the state unemployment compensation office in Logan Square on the city's northwest side. People in the line talk about what it's like to be out of work as they deal with bureaucratic entanglements of their cases. As the program progresses, a family finally receives the check they needed to survive--after eight attempts.

00:00Copy video clip URL Opening shot of front office of the State of Illinois Department of Labor in Logan Square (at Belmont and California). Title card: “The Unemployment Line.”

00:40Copy video clip URL Inside the offices: “It is a birthplace for confusion…” Unemployed man explains the dynamics of the office and the varieties of people inside. “I am at the pinnacle of absolute desperation or I would not be here.”

2:48Copy video clip URL Harvey Richardson is a security guard and describes how there’s a new influx of unemployed people. He says, “Sometimes people come in mad and sometimes people want to break the rules we have here.”

3:30Copy video clip URL Father/son duo holding each other’s place in line. They’ve both been laid off. Father: “I just go to work, eat, and sleep, and I enjoy my family. That’s all I know. I don’t go into big politics or anything like that.” An interview continues with both of them.

6:47Copy video clip URL Footage of a bureaucrat talking with a recently unemployed person. We get a good view of the screening/interview process.

8:00Copy video clip URL Back to Mr. Richardson. “The best part of my job is pay day.” He laments having a job where he has to carry a gun on his hip.

10:03Copy video clip URL “People have changed from eleven years back to now. The young people resent anybody with a gun on them.”

11:57Copy video clip URL Interview with Nick Hill who is looking to get back on unemployment benefits. He feels like he has plenty of time to look for work, “but getting [work] is another thing.”

13:18Copy video clip URL Back to Mr. Richardson who describes the need for infrastructure remodeling and development that could be employing a lot of people. He figures that political games are the reasons these things aren’t being done.

16:01Copy video clip URL Richardson: “If I didn’t have this job I would be in this line!”

16:26Copy video clip URL After waiting in line for three hours the same man from the beginning of the footage is told to go to a different line. People laugh at him. Camera follows him to “Special Unemployment Assistance” line where a translator is at work.

17:52Copy video clip URL A child, translating for her Spanish-speaking father, is describing how his family has been waiting 8 weeks for a check. He is an unemployed machine operator with six other children.

21:49Copy video clip URL Interview with a state employee/translator. “I’m dealing with the people and helping with the community.”

22:07Copy video clip URL Interview with another employee who has found records of the machine operator in their “IBM machine.”

23:43Copy video clip URL Interviewer Anda Korsts comes to the father and daughter and tells them that the state has found the father’s records. Child asks, “Do you know how much money they might give us?” Korsts: “No one seems to know.”

25:31Copy video clip URL The state writes him a check for $388.

27:06Copy video clip URL Father says that if the interviewer and camera crew weren’t here then they would never have written him the check.

27:20Copy video clip URL Credits.

28:26Copy video clip URL WTTW card.

28:34Copy video clip URL Advertisements/promos.

29:17Copy video clip URL Beginning of “Dr. Mabuse.”

31:00Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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