Employment and Jobs

Building a National Unemployment Insurance System

April 27, 2021  • Stephen A. Wandner & Christopher T. King

This paper first makes the case for comprehensive reform of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program in the United States, exploring the many ways in which the program has failed in recent decades to accomplish both its macroeconomic goal of economic stabilization and its microeconomic goal of temporary income restoration for workers laid off through no fault of their own. It then outlines options for reform and recommends a uniform, much more consistent national UI program that would be administered by the Social Security Administration consistently and equitably across all states. The national UI program would be phased in over two years beginning in 2022. This paper also presents a number of recommended complementary reforms, including a JobSeeker Assistance program to cover groups that have traditionally been left out of the regular program, enhanced funding for UI and Employment Service administration and services,better coordination with workforce development programs, as well as Universal Adjustment Assistance. It ends with a list of immediate steps that should be taken in 2021without legislation to transition to the National UI Program, including developing model state UI application, payment and related systems that can be exported to states to allow them to avoid wasteful investments in 53 different IT systems during the transition.

Read the Report


About the BETS Taskforce

The Better Employment and Training Strategies Taskforce (BETS) is a coalition of more than 40 leading practitioners and experts working to modernize the United States’ outdated patchwork of workforce policies. The five BETS workgroups were convened in November 2020 to develop recommendations aimed at informing the incoming Biden-Harris administration and the 117th Congress on issues and policy options related to unemployment insurance, workforce development, job quality, youth employment, and federal jobs initiatives. The BETS Taskforce was convened by Prof. Stephen Crawford of the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, Stuart Andreason of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and Larry Good of Corporation for a Skilled Workforce.

The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program is proud to participate in BETS. Click here to learn more.


BETS Reports