Slashing Unemployment Benefits Weeks on Jobless Rates Hurts Workers of Color

Source: Alexa Tapia, Nzingha Hooker, National Employment Law Project, Policy & Data Brief, May 14, 2021

A year ago, NELP published a policy brief examining the decisions made by state policymakers over the past decade to limit rather than expand unemployment program resources to jobseekers. That brief highlighted lessons learned at the national level after many state unemployment insurance (UI) programs constricted during the economic recovery and expansion following the Great Recession.

The result? Many state unemployment systems were under-resourced and unprepared to support workers during a period of mass unemployment in 2020.

The problems we named in 2020 have snowballed into an avalanche of challenges requiring national attention. In this brief, we will explore the conditions that brought us to this point, look at examples from states that are moving in the wrong direction, and offer recommendations to positively transform the system.

This brief also discusses state policy choices after the last recession that resulted in declines in UI benefit recipiency that were particularly devastating in Black, Asian, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.

There is an urgent need for states to apply these lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and muster the political will to adopt UI policies and practices that actually better support unemployed people who need it the most.