Jobless Workers Swamp N.Y.'s Benefits System

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When tens of thousands of newly laid off workers rushed to file for benefits in New York, the state's system crashed. State labor department officials say the problem started Monday when phone banks at the state's toll-free claims center shut down. Then, the online filing system crashed.


Alcoa's just the latest company to announce job cuts and in fact, the unemployment situation is getting so serious that offices in at least three states, unemployment offices, have experienced computer crashes. That's because of the crush of people filing for jobless benefits. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports on the situation in New York.

JIM ZARROLI: New York's unemployment claims office has been under a lot of stress. The state's unemployment rate has gone from 4.6 to 6.1 percent in a year. Some 800,000 people contacted the office in November, compared to 300,000 in November 2007. Leo Rosales, spokesman for the state Labor Department, says earlier this week, the system buckled under. So many people contacted the office that the security filters used to identify claimants stopped working.

Mr. LEO ROSALES (Spokesman, New York Labor Department): We had thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers - 10,000 calls per hour, we were averaging - which contributed to the shutdown of the system.

ZARROLI: Rosales says the trouble started two days ago. He says calls tend to spike right after the holidays, and they're always especially high on Monday morning as well. So Rosales says it was a perfect storm. Once the office figured out what had happened, it set to work upgrading the software that handles calls and by yesterday, the system was working again. This isn't the first time something like this has happened. A Web site used by North Carolina's Employment Security Commission crashed twice this week after too many people tried to access it to file claims. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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