Jobless Claims Swamp State Offices

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GENERIC Unemployment, employment figures down, economy, jobs
CBS/AP

The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits in this recession has just hit an all-time high of close to 5 million. CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes reports state unemployment offices are completely overwhelmed.



After dialing up the California unemployment office and hearing: "Currently we are receiving more calls then we can answer. Goodbye," Brian Holst logged onto his computer to sign up for unemployment benefits.

"I'd much rather be told 'goodbye' and be hung up on then wait in a queue for a half hour and not have anyone pick up on me," said Holst, who is currently unemployed.

California officials admit Holst is not alone in his frustration. It takes an average of 20 tries to get through to an operator. The state is getting swamped by 2.5 million call attempts a day, Hughes reports.

While 70 percent of people apply online, those who can only use the phone will pay with their time.

"We just have to wait sometimes over two, three hours sometimes just to get that agent on the phone," said unemployed worker Eduardo Pesantes.

To keep up with the crush of calls and applicants, California is adding overtime hours for workers in the evenings and on Saturdays.

It's just as bad across the country.

Call centers in Nevada are getting 17,000 calls a week - more than 30 percent above normal.

"The first thing that most people say when they call is, 'so you guys are pretty busy, huh?'" said Kimiya Williams, a Nevada claims examiner. "I've been trying to get through for several weeks."

In New Mexico, the governor recently doubled the number of workers taking claims over the phone.

In Michigan, where the unemployment rate is now the highest in the nation, 10.6 percent, a fourth call center was just added.

"And believe me, if I've got to go in and answer phones, I'll do it," said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The system is so strained, some state unemployment funds are going broke. Seven states are now borrowing from the federal government to pay benefits. Those include:

  • California
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • South Carolina

    The federal government is responding, funding an extension of unemployment benefits from 26 to 39 weeks. If the stimulus package passes, the feds would also pump a $.5 billion into state employment programs.