Unemployment insurance is one of the best tools for stabilizing our economy, yet only one in four jobless DC workers receive these benefits. Unemployment insurance goes directly back into local businesses through mortgage/rent payments, groceries, and other essential purchases. It not only prevents jobless workers from plunging into more severe financial crisis, but keeps their neighbors employed by keeping dollars flowing into the local economy.
- DC’s unemployment rate hit a historic high of 12.1 percent in December – two percentage points above the national average. There are 20,000 more jobless DC residents today than just two years ago. This rate does not reflect the number of “discouraged” workers who have stopped looking or those who want to work full-time but have settled for part-time hours. When these workers were included, DC’s rate increased to 14.2 percent for 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- DC has a large number of jobless residents who have been unemployed for 15 weeks or longer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data also shows that the city has a relatively low rate of people who recently lost their jobs or completed a temporary job. In other words, while most communities are suffering from recent job loss as a result of the recession, many DC residents were having trouble finding employment even before the economic downturn.
- Only one in four jobless DC residents collects unemployment benefits, among the lowest rates in the country. This reflects a number of factors, one of which is that many of the city’s jobless have been out of work for so long that they are not eligible.
WHAT IS BEING DONE NOW
There currently are two unemployment insurance-related bills being considered by the DC Council that would expand unemployment insurance benefits.
- The Unemployment Compensation Administrative Modernization Amendment Act of 2009 expands unemployment insurance using two approaches recommended by the U.S. Department of Labor. Making these changes would allow the District to receive an $18 million, one-time bonus through the 2009 federal stimulus package. The reforms include creating a dependent allowance for unemployed workers and extending the length of benefits to workers in qualified training programs. Under this legislation, recipients of unemployment insurance would receive $15 for each dependent per week, up to $50 per week. And unemployed workers who have exhausted regular unemployment benefits but who are enrolled in an approved training program could extend their unemployment benefits by 26 weeks.
- The Unemployment Insurance Compensation Reform Act of 2009 extends the time given to appeal a denial of eligibility for unemployment insurance from 10 to 15 days and increases the weekly maximum payment by $20 from $359 to $379. (The District currently has the lowest maximum payment in the region: Virginia is $378 per week, and Maryland is $380.) The bill also extends benefits to those who leave a job for “compelling family reasons” — to care for a sick family member, to respond to domestic violence, or when a worker moves due to spouse relocation.
Although these reforms would help more jobless workers collect the benefits they need, many residents have been out of work too long to qualify for even a reformed unemployment insurance program. The development of training and education options is the best way to address this long-term joblessness.
- Modernizing Unemployment Insurance – The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, National Employment Law Project , 2009
- Help Is on the Way for Unemployed Workers, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2009