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Caseworkers’ jobs pose dangers

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: November 22, 2009
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LANSING, Mich. — One frustrated client hurled a piece of concrete through the window of a welfare agency. Another threw her car keys at a welfare worker before being escorted away. At one point, a woman on public assistance even took a swing at a worker.

As Michigan struggles with the highest-in-the-nation jobless rate, state workers who deal with unemployment, welfare and other aid programs say they have never been so overwhelmed — or so worried about their safety. Some clients have begun taking their anger out on the very people who are offering help. And caseworkers are seeking extra protection.

"We are seeing it more and more as a dangerous situation,” said Amy Harrison, a caseworker who used to work for the state prison system, where she says she never felt as insecure as she does now.

More than 15 percent of Michigan workers do not have a job. The dismal economy has also caused record demand for food stamps and public health care, forcing impoverished clients to wait hours for help in crowded office buildings. To make matters worse, a troublesome new computer system is also causing delays.

It’s a recipe for conflict — or worse.

"What is it going to take? Is it going to take one of us getting seriously injured or killed? I hope not,” said Laurie Massie, who works for the Department of Human Services.