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2009 A Big Year For Unemployment Claims

Colin Fogarty

One of the hottest job markets in 2009 was at state employment department call centers. The Northwest region ends the year with a dramatic increase in the number of people without jobs. In Washington alone, 475,000 people collected benefits, up from 290,000 in 2008.


One of those newly laid off workers is William Combs of Vancouver, Washington. He's spent half the day in front of a computer in a state employment resource center.

William Combs: "Right now, I'm trying to find fork lifting jobs, warehousing, everything and anything. But the thing of it is, there may be five positions, but there's probably, 600 people applying for it."

The steep increase in claims this year, along with benefit extensions by Congress, prompted a hiring boom at state unemployment call centers. A year ago, callers to the Washington employment department waited on hold for more than a half hour. Now spokesman Mark Varadian says that's down to less than 15 minutes. And there's also a new option.

Mark Varadian: "What that is a live call center staffer will call you back at your number. So you don't lose your place in line. You're just not on hold."

Oregon's employment department doesn't yet have such a call back system but the agency is working on it.

I'm Colin Fogarty, reporting.

© Copyright 2009, Northwest News Network