Transforming Unemployment Insurance for the Twenty-First Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Reform

U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Unemployment Insurance (UI) system plays multiple, important roles in the nation’s economy. Not only does it help support laid-off workers and their families during times of need, it also serves as an automatic stabilizer, boosting the economy during downturns like those in 2008 and 2020. Such downturns, however, multiply the strains on the UI system, exposing problems that heighten the need for significant reform.

A new book from the Upjohn Press responds to this need. In Transforming the Unemployment Insurance System for the Twenty-First Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Reform, Stephen A. Wandner provides a methodical roadmap for improving the system. He brings an approach based on research, experience and fairness to an issue that can be politically challenging to approach. The book is available for free download.

Wandner begins with a detailed history of the UI system from its inception to its current state. He also looks at the goals for the system and how they are not being met due to federal policymakers’ lack of oversight or, on the state level, efforts to reduce benefit eligibility, adequacy, and duration. He then provides a step-by-step guide that focuses on improving each critical factor of the system and proposes fixes to strengthen this crucial form of social insurance.

As Wandner clearly demonstrates, federal policymakers’ inattention to the program has progressively weakened the crucial protection provided by unemployment benefits. After detailing the many shortcomings of the current system, Wandner evaluates a wide range of reforms that could help improve its performance. The book ought to be at the top of the reading list of Members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees. Even if these key lawmakers foolishly ignore the volume, labor economists and students of American social insurance would be well advised to read it and reflect on its contents.” —Gary Burtless, Senior fellow in Economic Studies,The Brookings Institution

This is a thoroughly researched and sweeping book by one of the eminent researchers and practitioners of the American Unemployment Insurance system. It will become required reading for anyone trying to understand the origins of the UI system, why it is broken, and what to do about it. Highly recommended!Till von Wachter, Professor of Economics, Director, California Policy Lab, Director, Federal Statistical Research Data Center, University of California Los Angeles

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Research Topics: Unemployment Insurance