NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Vagaries in States' Unemployment Insurance Systems

October 17, 2001

Although the labor force has changed over the last three decades to include more women, more temporary workers and fewer factory employees, the unemployment insurance system has not changed in many states, experts point out.

  • The system pays an average of $230 a week to unemployed Americans who meet its standards.
  • Although the rules vary from state to state, they typically exclude people who do not fit the traditional notion of a laid-off worker -- part-time employees, recently hired low-wage workers and people who quit their jobs or refused a new shift for family reasons.
  • The system now pays benefits to about 39 percent of all Americans who are without a job and currently looking for one -- down from about 50 percent in 1975 and even higher levels a half-century ago.
  • Critics question the policy in some states of taxing the earnings of part-time workers for unemployment insurance purposes, but then denying them benefits when they lose their jobs.

Other people never receive benefits because they do not think it is worth applying or because they do not know they qualify, labor experts report.

Source: David Leonhardt, "Out of Work, and Out of the Benefits Loop," New York Times, October 17, 2001.


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