How Shifting to a National Unemployment Insurance Program Might Reduce Poverty for Vulnerable Americans and Increase Program Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Equity

Awarded Scholars:
William Arnone, National Academy of Social Insurance
Stephen A. Wandner, National Academy of Social Insurance
Project Date:
Oct 2020
Award Amount:

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the social protection infrastructure which negatively affect the most vulnerable members of society. To what extent does the decentralized U.S. unemployment insurance (UI) system have the capacity to implement emergency provisions? The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) will establish an interdisciplinary Task Force to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of converting the UI program from the current federal-state hybrid system into a federal program. The Task Force, which will be comprised of 20-25 members from diverse backgrounds who have expertise and experience in both UI and Social Security, will consider the experiences of workers, employers, and officials from state UI systems during the pandemic-induced recession and recent economic downturns. William Arnone and Stephen Wandner of NASI will review existing analyses of the UI system, including proposals to federalize it, to better understand these questions: Which aspects of the current system work well, and which do not? In which states does the program work better, and for what reasons? Which improvements might be made in the current federal-state system? What are common challenges across the states and/or regions of the country? What are the differences? The Task Force will establish working groups to assess the pros and cons of potential large-scale reforms, including the implications of the proposed reforms/policy strategies with respect to their logistical feasibility, political viability, and economic impacts. Arnone and Wandner will disseminate the findings and recommendations of the Task Force in a report and policy briefs and at a conference to be jointly hosted with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.


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