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Rhode Island struggles with highest unemployment

Tuesday - 2/12/2013, 6:26pm  ET

In this Feb. 5, 2013 photo, John Gallagher, second from right, an unemployed part-time student from Providence, R.I., addresses a group on the difficulties of accessing unemployment benefits in Rhode Island during a meeting at the George Wiley Center in Pawtucket, R.I. A month after losing his job as a bus driver, Gallagher has not been able to reach anyone at the state's unemployment call center. Also attending the meeting are, from left, Camilo Viveiros of Somerset, Mass., head organizer at the center; Maggi Rogers of Pawtucket, also an organizer; unemployed construction worker Ledimo Hernandez of Cranston, R.I.; and retiree Charles Casey of Providence. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

DAVID KLEPPER
Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Mark Simmons began dialing Rhode Island's unemployment call center at 8 a.m. on a recent Monday. He got a busy signal. He tried 67 more times before the automated system picked up and told him that because of heavy call volume, he should try back another time.

People applying for unemployment benefits in this state with the nation's highest jobless rate must wait on hold an average of 51 minutes. Not only that, but some of those interviewed by The Associated Press say that their benefits are often weeks late and that when they try to speak to a human about the problem, they're referred to a computer.

"This is about whether I can buy groceries or whether I'm going to be evicted," said Simmons, a 42-year-old Army veteran who has gotten by on part-time wages and unemployment since losing his job at a Providence bookstore in 2011. "I sit in my apartment, dialing the number again and again, when I'm supposed to be looking for jobs. It's like, what do I pay taxes for?"

While many states are well on the way to recovery 2
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