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caption: The sidewalk along Alaskan Way in front of Seattle's iconic Ivar's Fish Bar restaurant is nearly empty, Friday, April 10, 2020, as seen from a construction walkway near the Colman Ferry Terminal in Seattle.
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The sidewalk along Alaskan Way in front of Seattle's iconic Ivar's Fish Bar restaurant is nearly empty, Friday, April 10, 2020, as seen from a construction walkway near the Colman Ferry Terminal in Seattle.
Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

High traffic causes Washington's unemployment website crash. More help is on the way

Washington state's Employment Security website crashed over the weekend as independent contractors and gig workers accessed the system for the first time.

There are hundreds of thousands of such workers seeking payments. A federal aid package just kicked in for them.

The unemployment site is up again and taking applications today, but with a warning about extremely high volumes.

As frustrating as the online experience might be, it’s better than phoning overloaded call centers. Officials stress that applicants will not lose money if they can't file immediately. Payments are retroactive to when you qualified.

The state added capacity to its website to handle the expected crush, but it was not enough. Employment Security recently hired 500 workers, and is going to bring on more in coming days, according to agency head Suzi LeVine.

Washington state is in good shape to handle the monetary demand. A large portion of the money being disbursed comes from federal funds. In addition, the state has $4.7 billion in a trust fund to pay unemployment claims. It’s one of the best unemployment trust funds in the country right now. So far, $270 million has been payed out in the current crisis.

Washington state's economic boom brought many new jobs and employers to pay into the trust fund, during a period of very few claims.

With more than 600,000 people filing for unemployment here, comparisons are being made to the Great Depression. That crisis started off with a huge stock market correction, then a major agricultural failure, and poverty on a vast scale.

Government aid was nowhere near what it is this time, and the depression part came because the period lasted so long that people lost hope.

Mark Zandi, chief economist At Moody's Analytics, said there is no analog to what's happening to us now in modern times. The Great Depression can't help us understand what our future is going to be.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.