How's this for a busy signal of the times: A deluge of calls prompted by the sour economy is tying up the phone lines at Employment Security Commission offices across the state.
For about the past two months, phones have been ringing ceaselessly at N.C. ESC offices as people attempt to file unemployment claims, make appointments and receive job advice, public information officer Andy James said.
And short of hiring more workers – an unlikely prospect in the current economy – there's little the state can do about it, he said.
“It should be a simple matter,” he said. “But when you have thousands of people you didn't have even a year ago descending on the office via the phone lines, we have a certain limit monetarily that we can spend on telephonic communications, and unfortunately, that's being overcome.”
Buying additional phone lines would not help, he noted, because there would still be the same number of people in offices to respond to calls.
The state does not track call volume, but the crush of calls appears to have little precedent.
James, a nine-year ESC veteran, said he could not remember a time when people had been calling more, and the only occasions he recalled office lines being so jammed were because of specific layoffs or technical issues.
“It's very frustrating, and I hate for that to happen to people with us, but we're just in a situation where there's no other way to turn,” he said.
The ESC is trying to assist customers as quickly and kindly as possible, he said, urging patience and persistence. He offered a few suggestions – beyond visiting in person.
First, try calling a couple of times, staying on the line for two minutes. If you do not get through, try back again in 15 or 30 minutes. Do not hit redial and do not waste your entire day trying to get through. “Probably with some persistence, you'll get through,” James said.
Also, try e-mailing the local office, if possible. The central Charlotte ESC office, off Albemarle Road, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other offices' e-mail addresses are available at www.ncesc.com/locator/locatormain.asp.
There's also a statewide ESC number for questions that aren't locally specific, such as the status of a claim: 866-278-3822. However, that has also faced high call volume lately, James said.