Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits provided a lifeline to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. However, access to these benefits has been uneven across communities and states (Edwards, 2020). Identifying and documenting these disparities is an important step to addressing them and to rendering the UI system more equitable. Utilizing a conceptual framework of unemployment claims, we developed three metrics to measure access to UI benefits across the claim lifecycle. We then analyzed these measures to provide insight into differential access to UI benefits across U.S. states and across counties within California.
The first measure of access is the First Payment Rate and corresponds to the earliest part of the claim lifecycle. It measures the share of people who file their first claim and who subsequently receive a UI payment. After the First Payment Rate, the primary measure of access in the report is the Recipiency Rate. The recipiency rate measures the share of unemployed or underemployed workers who are actually receiving UI benefits. This is the traditional measure (Wittenberg et al., 1999) of UI access, and reflects access in the middle of the claim lifecycle. The final measure of access is the Exhaustion Rate, which corresponds to the final part of the claim lifecycle. It measures the share of claimants who have exhausted eligibility for both regular and extended UI benefits.
We calculated these metrics in each state by using publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Labor reports and by county in California using tabulations based on individuallevel claims data from the California Employment Development Department. The additional information available in the California claims data allows us to improve and further segment our measures of access, allowing us to identify new facts and patterns from the data. We generated these metrics for the year 2020 and focused our analysis from the beginning of the pandemic in March through December 2020, just prior to the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. In addition, we compared these to the corresponding values in December 2019 as a pre-pandemic benchmark.
We use these measures to analyze disparities in access to UI benefits during and before the pandemic and identify community attributes and policy choices that are associated with differential access. This analysis cannot identify causal relationships, however, across metrics, there is a pattern of correlations showing that workers in states with more generous labor and UI policies have greater access to benefits, potentially indicating the importance of policy choices in shaping UI access. The correlations also show a pattern by which less affluent areas and areas with a higher share of disadvantaged social groups are associated with lower access to UI benefits. Additional research is needed to identify the causal mechanisms between policies and UI access.
Along with research on the effects of rules of the UI and other state and federal programs, we conclude the report by providing further recommendations on future data collection and research funding priorities.
This work has been supported, in part, by the University of California Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants MRP-19-600774 and M21PR3278