Unemployment data hard to get for North Carolina counties like Hoke

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • While the U.S. Department of Labor and N.C. Department of Commerce are tracking unemployment, it’s hard to say exactly how many people in Hoke have lost work due to COVID-19.

So far more than 26 million Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. More than 700,000 people in North Carolina have filed for unemployment since the pandemic hit the U.S. in the middle of March.

The News-Journal is investigating how many people in Hoke County have lost work due to the coronavirus. However, officials didn’t have county-level data available as of Thursday afternoon, according to N.C. Department of Commerce Communications Director David Rhoades.

“At this point we don’t have a county-level breakout of the data. We’ve been asked this from a lot of folks, so we do have some data specialists who are working to provide that,” Rhoades said.

It’s not as simple as calling the local employment office and asking how many people filed for unemployment insurance. It’s not a centralized process, the communications director said. Unemployment claims come in online and over the phone for all of North Carolina.

But the big reason is that there are federal rules that the state office has to follow when reporting that data, Rhoades said.

“It’s related to a lot of the reporting rules that are in place with the partnership that we have with the federal government at a high level, that’s essentially the reason. There are processes that have to happen,” he said.

Rhoades said he wasn’t sure exactly when the data specialists would have the county-level information ready. The News-Journal will report on that information when it becomes available.

Challenges to filing for benefits

The N.C. Division of Employment Security’s site notes that its call centers are experiencing unusually high call volume, and it may be hard to get through.

“The fastest and most efficient way to file a claim is online,” the DES stated. However, some users reported that the site was running slowly or not responding.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced this week the state is hiring more people to help process unemployment claims faster. Cooper also issued an executive order making it possible for furloughed workers who received severance pay to still file for unemployment. Previous executive orders issued last month removed some other barriers for people filing for unemployment insurance.

To file an unemployment claim online, visit the DES here.