Balancing two babies on his lap, Jack Flowers sits in the middle of the Career Center in Dalton, Ga., trying to focus on the papers scattered on the table in front of him.
Like most people who never have filed for unemployment insurance, Mr. Flowers, 25, who was laid off from a cable company in Dalton last week, found himself going back and forth to the front desk to ask questions, each time carrying the small children with him.
"I am trying to find something doing more cable work, but there is nobody hiring right now," said Mr. Flowers. "It is very discouraging to have no work, especially with kids."
As thousands of people in the Dalton area find themselves without work in the economic recession, many are turning to the state for support and hoping the money will float them until jobs become available.
Officials with the Georgia Department of Labor said they are struggling to keep up with the growing number of unemployment insurance claims.
Dalton jobs lost
* 4,100 total jobs were lost in Dalton last year
* 1,700 in textile mills
* 300 in retail trade
* 600 in construction
* 100 in transportation
* 100 in local government
Source: Dalton Career Center
N GEORGIA UNEMPLOYMENT
As thousands of people in the Dalton, Ga., area find themselves without work in the economic recession, many are turning to the state for support and hoping the money will float them until jobs become available. Officials with the Georgia Department of Labor said they are struggling to keep up with the growing number of unemployment insurance claims.
"The Georgia Department of Labor has taken significant steps to better serve the growing number of hard-working Georgians who lose their jobs as a result of the current recession," said state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. "Our assistance is needed at a level we've not experienced before."
Across the state line in Tennessee, officials also are awash in unemployment claims, so many in fact that they're holding weekly mass claim sessions to meet demand.
"They have been so slammed," said Richard Butler, an employee at the Chattanooga Career Center, where the claim sessions are being held here.
In February, 5,325 people filed unemployment claims in the Dalton area, a number double last year's claims of 2,141, according to Georgia Department of Labor statistics. And in January and December more than 9,000 claims were filed each month, the department said.
Some of the claims are partial unemployment claims from people whose hours have been cut, said Sam Hall, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Labor.
Statewide, 86,519 claims were filed in February and 120,139 were filed in January, records show.
"Unemployment is at an all-time high," Mr. Hall said.
To help meet the growing demand for unemployment services in Georgia, Mr. Hall said career centers have expanded their hours to be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The centers were open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. before.
Some staff members are working 10-hour days in order to keep up with paperwork, he said.
Georgia also has developed rapid-response units in which officials set up a transition centers at companies with major layoffs, giving people a chance to assess their skills and determine whether or not they will need to change occupations, he said.
In March, 52,694 people filed unemployment claims in Tennessee, a significant jump from March 2008 when 22,587 people filed, said Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Last week alone, 14,176 Tennesseans filed for unemployment insurance, he said.
Typically, unemployment claims are not handled at Tennessee Career Centers, but officials with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development are authorizing some center employees to handle claims because of the shear demand.
Mr. Hentschel said the state's five call centers are receiving 6,000 calls per week, which is about the same as last year, but mass claim sessions are elevating the burden on that system.
Danny Cope, manager at the Dalton Career Center, said the most difficult thing for people facing unemployment is not knowing the future.
With companies in the area cutting thousands of jobs, competition for work is fierce, and it can take a long time to find new work, he said.
As soon as he gets someone through the paperwork related to filing an unemployment claim, he said he encourages them to use the career centers services such as counseling, job databases and interview training.
"There is a tone of uncertainty," Mr. Cope said. "We are trying to offer them hope."