Unemployment Benefits Kept 2.3 Million People Out of Poverty in 2021

New Analysis Highlights Impact of Federal Unemployment Expansions

NATIONWIDE—A new analysis of just-released Supplemental Poverty Measure data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, including the federal pandemic expansions, kept 2.3 million people, including 525,000 children, out of poverty in 2021.

Research by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) suggests that expanded UI has the greatest impact on Black and Latinx workers and their families, who were the hardest hit by pandemic-induced unemployment and are disproportionately excluded from the regular unemployment insurance system. In 2021, 11.3 percent of Black households and 11.2 percent of Latinx households experienced poverty, compared to 5.7 percent of non-Hispanic white households.

“During the worst days of the pandemic, workers demanded relief. Congress listened and dramatically expanded unemployment insurance, transforming it into an even more powerful anti-poverty tool,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of NELP. “Yet UI expansions expired in September 2021, leaving workers to rely on an inadequate and exclusionary system. Recognizing the considerable power of unemployment benefits to cut poverty and reduce severe hardship, Congress must listen to workers again and implement permanent, structural reform of the unemployment insurance system before the next recession hits.”

NELP calls on Congress to enact Senator Ron Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act, which begins to address some significant ways the unemployment insurance system disproportionately excludes Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and workers with disabilities. It does so by providing at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, increasing coverage for part-time workers, and expanding eligibility by requiring states to consider workers’ most recent earnings and standardizing earning requirements. These reforms lay the groundwork for transforming our unemployment insurance system and enabling all workers to thrive.

Read the policy brief: Expanded Unemployment Insurance Substantially Reduced Poverty in 2021


The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org. Follow NELP on Twitter at @NelpNews.


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