With unemployment claims surging during the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey is in dire need of computer programmers who know COBOL.

The decades-old programming language, created the same year as the Barbie doll, still runs the state's unemployment insurance system, along with a hefty chunk of similar transactions around the country.

State Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Rob Asaro-Angelo politely called it "legacy technology" at an April 4 state briefing.

He also noted the first week of the coronavirus public health crisis in NJ saw a "1,600% increase in volume in unemployment claims."

COBOL (which stands for “Common Business-Oriented Language”) was developed in 1959.

Even though it's decades old, “$3 trillion of commercial transactions are processed by COBOL applications each day. COBOL is what business runs on,” according to a blog report by IBM Systems in October 2019.

The same report noted the issue of a limited workforce, as professionals who were taught COBOL are of prime retirement age, while newer members of the information technology workforce are rarely learning it.

Gov. Phil Murphy and state Chief Innovation Officer Beth Noveck said Monday that they have heard from technologists already and are using a lot of volunteer help, since the initial request Saturday.

Noveck said she expects a portion of the state's website to go live this week, to allow for volunteers of a wide variety to step up and respond to the "all hands on deck" situation.

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