Local News

Computer upgrade to delay extra jobless benefits

Posted November 20, 2009 10:31 a.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2009 7:09 p.m. EST

Growing numbers of N.C. residents are searching for work and collecting unemployment benefits at Employment Security Commission offices.

— The state's unemployment picture darkened slightly Friday as the jobless rate for October went back to a seasonally adjusted 11 percent, a bit higher than it was in September and where it had been in June, according to the state Employment Security Commission.

The rate in both August and September was 10.8 percent.

Two weeks ago, the federal government reported that the national unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent in October, the highest national number since 1983.

Because North Carolina's jobless rate is one of the highest nationwide, state residents who have exhausted their unemployment benefits are eligible to receive an extra 20 weeks of benefits under legislation Congress passed and President Obama signed two weeks ago.

About 71,000 North Carolinians are eligible for the extended benefits, according to ESC.

"Without the benefits, I wouldn't have been able to survive," said Will Schnorr, who lost his construction job 14 months ago. "My wife works part time. I've got three kids, and me and my wife just had a baby."

Unfortunately, ESC Chairman Moses Carey Jr. said, state residents who qualify for the extra benefits won't be able to get them until the end of the year. Workers need about six weeks to update ESC computer files to recognize the new benefits guidelines, he said.

"We're still working to get the benefits in people's hands as soon as possible," Carey said. "We have to program our computers to make sure that we get it right, so we don't cause big problems for the state of North Carolina."

He urged people who are receiving unemployment benefits to continue checking online to see if new benefits checks have been issued.

"We are trying to make sure that they have access to resources as soon as they are eligible, and the only way they can determine that is to check the system," he said.

More people employed in October

In one bit of bright news, non-farm employment in North Carolina grew by 12,100 jobs in October compared with the month before. The total was still 185,800 fewer than in October 2008. That included a loss of almost 6,600 construction jobs since September.

Still, seasonally adjusted employment in North Carolina last month decreased by 5,643 workers, to 4,035,471. Unemployment increased by 4,537 workers, to 496,279.

Without the seasonal adjustment last month, the ESC said, the unemployment rate would have been 10.7 percent.

"The numbers have been pretty steady since February," Carey said. "We’ve had ups and downs concerning the number of people employed and unemployed, but we haven’t experienced any significant changes."

North Carolina has lost almost 228,000 jobs in the last year. The statewide unemployment rate was 7 percent a year ago.

"It's a really difficult time right now. There are roughly six people looking for every job that is available," said Elaine Mejia, project director for the NC Budget & Tax Center, a progressive policy organization.

According to ESC data, North Carolina has suffered a net loss of non-farm jobs in every primary category it tracks other than government and education/health services over the past year.

By category for 2009, through last month, the changes were:

  •  Total non-farm: -185,800
  •  Natural resources and mining: -200
  •  Construction: -44,200
  •  Manufacturing: -64,400
  •  Trade, transportation and utilities: -40,000
  •  Information: -3,900
  •  Financial activities: -9,300
  •  Professional and business services: -31,600
  •  Education and health services: +6,100
  •  Leisure and hospitality: -5,800
  •  Other services: -9,400
  •  Government: +16,900

The jobless rate does not include people who aren't working and have either given up seeking employment or moved elsewhere.