SALEM - Unemployment in Oregon has gotten so bad that the state Employment Department has put more people on the job handling claims.

Craig Spivey said the department has added 43 people to handle the growing load of jobless claims, and it plans to add 20 more by the end of the week.

The October unemployment rate in Oregon was 7.3 percent, an increase of almost 1 percentage point from the previous month - and the highest one-month jump in Oregon since April 1980. The national average is 6.5 percent.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Monday that he is concerned the rate will go higher. Its peak in the most recent recession in 2003 was 8.5 percent.

Spivey said the department's toll-free claims line is getting an average of 4,000 calls a day, and some callers don't get through. The number is (877) 877-1781. When a backlog occurs, callers are told to try again later, and their calls are ended.

Laura Lacey of Salem recently found herself at the dead end of such a call.

"Our state probably did not foresee this kind of unemployment," she told the Salem Statesman Journal. "But we are here now, I see this getting worse, and I cannot imagine that hundreds of others have not experienced the same thing I have."

She finally went to the department's office, although the agency usually asks contacts to be on the phone or online. State officials say the best way to file an unemployment claim or get an update on your claim's status is at www.workinginoregon.org.

Spivey said the agency is processing claims quickly. He suggests callers try early afternoons on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays.

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