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Unemployment Insurance: Strengthening the Relationship between Theory and Policy

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  • Walter Nicholson
  • Karen Needels

Abstract

Ever since the U.S. federal-state system of unemployment insurance was founded in the 1930s, it has provided partial, temporary replacement of wages to eligible workers who lose jobs -- through no fault of their own -- (as determined by state-level regulations). Unemployment insurance is one of the largest social insurance programs in the United States, with benefits paid totaling about $34 billion in 2004. Economic theory can help us understand the challenges this complex program is likely to face over the next few years. We begin by summarizing the salient characteristics of the unemployment insurance program and then examine the theoretical and econometric research. Much of this research revolves around the main goals of the program, which include: 1) sustaining consumption for workers and their families; 2) helping recipients to make efficient job choices during a period of financial stress; and 3) minimizing the adverse incentives that may accompany partial wage replacement. Of course, these goals can come into conflict -- for example, if replacing wages for an unemployed worker also discourages that worker from aggressively searching for or accepting a new job -- and our discussion will focus on these conflicts. In conclusion, we address the key policy issues that the unemployment insurance system is likely to face in upcoming years and ways policymakers may be able to use economic analysis to adjust the program so that it remains effective in addressing the needs of unemployed workers.

Suggested Citation

  • Walter Nicholson & Karen Needels, 2006. "Unemployment Insurance: Strengthening the Relationship between Theory and Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(3), pages 47-70, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:20:y:2006:i:3:p:47-70
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.3.47
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.20.3.47
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Jorge Andrés Tamayo & Jairo Núñez & Carlos Medina, 2013. "The Unemployment Subsidy Program in Colombia: An Assessment," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 4622, Inter-American Development Bank.
    2. Craig, Steven G. & Hemissi, Wided & Mukherjee, Satadru & Sørensen, Bent E., 2016. "How do politicians save? Buffer-stock management of unemployment insurance finance," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 18-29.
    3. Adrienne T. Edisis, 2016. "The Effect of Unemployment Insurance on Temporary Help Services Employment," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 37(4), pages 484-503, December.
    4. Bowen, T. Renee & Chen, Ying & Eraslan, Hülya & Zápal, Jan, 2017. "Efficiency of flexible budgetary institutions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 167(C), pages 148-176.
    5. Jeremy Schwartz, 2012. "Unemployment Insurance and the Business Cycle: What Adjustments are Needed?," EcoMod2012 3674, EcoMod.
    6. Fleurbaey, Marc & Zuber, Stéphane, 2017. "Fair management of social risk," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 169(C), pages 666-706.
    7. David R. Howell & Miriam Rehm, 2009. "Unemployment compensation and high European unemployment: a reassessment with new benefit indicators," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(1), pages 60-93, Spring.
    8. repec:bla:stratm:v:38:y:2017:i:2:p:163-183 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Hassan Mohammadi & Daniel Rich, 2013. "Dynamics of Unemployment Insurance Claims: An Application of ARIMA-GARCH Models," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 41(4), pages 413-425, December.
    10. Christopher J. O'Leary & Burt S. Barnow, 2016. "Lessons from the American Federal-State unemployment insurance system for a European unemployment benefits system," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 16-264, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    11. Jennifer Brown & David A. Matsa, 2012. "Boarding a Sinking Ship? An Investigation of Job Applications to Distressed Firms," NBER Working Papers 18208, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Walter Nicholson & Karen Needels & Heinrich Hock, 2014. "Unemployment Compensation During the Great Recession: Theory and Evidence," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 67(1), pages 187-218, March.

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