The COVID-19 crisis has exposed many flaws in American institutions, and unemployment insurance is one of the more extreme examples. The percent of unemployed people receiving unemployment benefits before the pandemic was between 20% to 40% in most states; but, it was as low as 10% in Florida, North Carolina and South Dakota. The CARES Act temporarily made the system more inclusive and generous, but millions of claimants had to wait many weeks to receive benefits. Moreover, it remains difficult for many workers to receive benefits.
In this project, a student and faculty member are collaborating with legal aid attorneys to gather workers’ stories that lay bare the problems of the unemployment benefits system. The stories will be collected in a final report that Legal Assistance of Western New York (LawNY) and other advocates can use to increase public visibility for the problems their clients are up against and to argue for particular improvements to expand access to benefits.
The project builds on a larger research project, “Unemployed Workers in Transition,” and connects it to debates over how to translate pandemic-era reforms into sustainable policy fixes.