Why is Expanding Unemployment Insurance Eligibility a Racial, Gender, and Disability Justice Imperative?

When workers lose a job, unemployment insurance (UI) provides crucial economic security. However, the overwhelming majority of jobless workers do not get benefits. Many are discouraged from even applying. Others are shut out because the federal government allows states to impose stringent eligibility requirements that disproportionately exclude workers of color, women workers, older workers, and workers with disabilities.

Unemployment insurance does not meet the needs of the majority of the workforce. The eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance must be expanded so more workers—especially women and Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian American/Pacific Islander workers and workers with disabilities—can be covered by these crucial benefits.

What does a just unemployment system look like?

  1. Congress sets minimum eligibility criteria that ensures state UI systems don’t unjustly exclude Black workers and other workers of color, women workers, older workers, or workers with disabilities.
  2. Congress sets standards that states must meet for UI benefit adequacy, duration, and accessibility.
  3. Unemployment insurance shields MORE working families from passing storms like recessions, pandemics, and layoffs that lead to job losses by reducing gender and racial inequities in the labor market, not exacerbating them. Unemployment insurance sustains workers and their families as well as the larger economy, supporting consumer spending during economic downturns and enabling workers to find good, new jobs that match their skills.

For more on why reforming UI is a racial justice imperative, and the policies needed, see https://bit.ly/UIisRJ

[1] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_04012022.htm; https://oui.doleta.gov/press/2022/040722.pdf

[2] Between 1989 and 2019, the average UI recipiency rate was 33.6%. Looking just at 2011 to 2019, the average drops to 27% as many states further reduced UI access in recent years. https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/Chartbook/a12.asp

[3] https://bryan-stuart.com/files/KukaStuart_14Jan2022.pdf

[4] Even in the states that do allow benefits for people needing to leave a job due to violence, the definitions can be overly restrictive and may not recognize the various ways violence happens as well as other related compelling reasons to leave a job such as sexual harassment. https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/pdf/uilawcompar/2021/complete.pdf

[5] https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/pdf/uilawcompar/2021/complete.pdf

[6] https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/research-publications/the-crisis-of-low-wages-in-the-us/

[7] https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea18.htm

[8] https://www.epi.org/publication/misclassification-the-abc-test-and-employee-status-the-california-experience-and-its-relevance-to-current-policy-debates/

[9] https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/pdf/uilawcompar/2021/complete.pdf

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About the Authors

Amy Traub

Areas of expertise:
  • Unemployment Insurance,
  • Workplace Equity

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