An old programming language is threatening global stability

In addition to ventilators and face masks, US state governments are now in dire need of COBOL programmers to help out during the global pandemic.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently put out a call for volunteers who know how to code the decades-old computer programming language as many of the state’s systems are still running on older mainframes. Governor Murphy explained that many of New Jersey’s systems are outdated during a coronavirus briefing, saying:

“Literally, we have systems that are 40-plus-years-old. There’ll be lots of postmortems and one of them on our list will be how did we get here where we literally needed COBOL programmers?”

According to Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, the state’s Departments of Labor were in the process of modernizing their systems from COBOL before the coronavirus outbreak began. 

A lack of COBOL programmers is also hurting Connecticut as the state is currently struggling to process its large volume of unemployment claims using a COBOL mainframe and four other separate systems. New Jersey is facing a similar situation as 362,000 of the states residents have filed for unemployment in the past two weeks and its 40-year-old mainframes are now being overloaded.


COBOL, which stands for Common Business Oriented Language, was first developed back in 1959 and is surprisingly still in use today.

For instance, a 2017 report from Reuters revealed that there are still 220bn lines of COBOL in use today as 43 percent of banking systems and 95 percent of ATM swipes still rely on the aging computer programming language.

COBOL is also still used by the US federal government across a variety of agencies including the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Justice and the Social Security Administration.

Additionally, a report from the inspector general for the Social Security Administration released in 2018 revealed that the administration still maintains more than 60m lines of COBOL along with millions more lines of other legacy programming languages.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn COBOL, now would be the perfect time to do so.


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