ALEX COHEN, host:
The state of North Carolina is grappling with the highest unemployment rate there in 25 years. In this digital age, many of those without a job are filing for benefits online. That's created some problems, though. This week, the demand for benefits was so great that North Carolina's Web site crashed not once, but twice. From member station WHQR, Catherine Welch reports.
CATHERINE WELCH: In the final hours of the weekend, when most people fold laundry or sack out on the couch watching a football game on TV, tens of thousands of people in North Carolina use their computers to log on to the state's employment Web site. The Sunday boost in traffic is expected because Monday is when new checks are cut. Most weeks, everything runs like clockwork. But this past Sunday, so many people logged on to the site it crashed.
Mr. LARRY PARKER (Public Information Office, North Carolina Employment Security Commission): Pretty much, you had to keep trying.
WELCH: That's Larry Parker with North Carolina's Employment Security Commission. He says the glitches didn't stop with the Web site. When people couldn't get online, they picked up the phone to file. But then the phone lines crashed, and the problems rolled right into Monday, the busiest day of the week.
Mr. PARKER: So, you had roughly around 40,000 people joining 70,000 on Monday trying to file both by phone and by Internet. And what that did was clog up both our Web traffic and our phone lines on Monday.
WELCH: Parker says by noon Monday, the machines were behaving, the checks were in the mail, and by Tuesday, everyone got paid. The state doled out $31 million, a new one-day record. Three hundred and fifty-six thousand people are out of work in North Carolina, and demand for unemployment benefits in the state has doubled from a year ago. Not only is the state's Web site jammed, the local employment offices are, too.
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Ms. CATHERINE TURNER (North Carolina State Employment Counselor): All right. So, what we need to do is we need to contact the last employer...
WELCH: Catherine Turner(ph) is on the front lines. She's a state employment counselor, and she's busy. A long line of people snakes around her desk. Charles Hodge(ph) waits patiently with the paperback book. He's looked for work on and off since March, when he was laid off from a manufacturing plant. He started with the company back in the '70s.
Mr. CHARLES HODGE (Unemployed Resident, North Carolina): They had a production rollback and I was one of the rollback-ees(ph). They got the prime out of me, from 20 'til about 30 - actually it's 36 years.
WELCH: Hodge landed a temporary gig for a couple of months until that ended, sending him back to the employment office, which he says is more crowded than when he was here a few months ago.
Mr. HODGE: Oh, yeah, the line is much longer than the last time I came here.
WELCH: Senior economist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington William Hall says last spring the state was in pretty good shape. But then the tent poles holding up North Carolina's economy started to buckle: first the banking industry, then the manufacturing and now, Hall says, a drop in certain healthcare services.
Dr. WILLIAM HALL (Economics, University of North Carolina Wilmington): For example, I know that optometrists are reporting a lot more no-shows. I know that dentists are reporting a lot more no-shows. Some medical service that perhaps can be postponed - postponed indefinitely, not necessarily postponed completely.
WELCH: Hall says he doesn't think North Carolina will see unemployment rates as high as South Carolina, which economists say could hit 14 percent by midyear. But then again, he says, he could never have predicted how dramatically North Carolina's unemployment rate climbed in such a short time. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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