By: Stephen A. Woodbury and Margaret C. Simms

Published: January, 2011

SUMMARY: The Great Recession has placed unusual demands and stress on the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program and revealed problems in the system’s adequacy, coverage, funding, reemployment services, and administration. This brief presents an agenda of research questions that a panel of experts believe must be addressed in order to improve the UI program. It is the product of a national roundtable on Strengthening Unemployment Insurance for the 21st Century, convened by the National Academy of Social Insurance in Washington, DC, on July 13, 2010, and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, and the DirectEmployers Association. The event brought together about 70 government officials, legislative staff, researchers, employer and worker representatives, and others. A full report on the event is available. Presentations made at the roundtable are also available for download. This brief elaborates on the research questions identified by the roundtable as essential to improving the UI program, including the following:

  • When a single parent loses her job, is UI adequate to compensate for her loss of earnings and other earnings-related support?
  • Why does the percentage of eligible workers who receive benefits vary so much across states? Have changes in eligibility requirements under the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act increased UI recipiency?
  • What factors contribute to the lower percentage of unemployed blacks than whites receiving UI benefits?
  • Which reemployment services are most effective, and how should services be tailored to different workers?
  • What happens to workers who exhaust UI benefits and are unemployed over the long term? Should there be a program to assist UI exhaustees?
  • How could an adequate and effective extended benefits program be structured?
  • How effective is UI in stabilizing consumption in a recession? Do the stabilizing effects of UI differ under different methods of funding UI?
  • What polices need to be adopted to ensure the solvency of state UI trust funds?
  • What administrative resources are needed to ensure that workers who are entitled to benefits received those benefits in a timely manner?

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