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First Tuesday: Unemployment Insurance for Tomorrow's Economy


  • Hal Bergan, consultant and former administrator, Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Division
  • Matt Harvill, vice president for unemployment compensation, Kelly Services Inc. 
  • Pamela Loprest, director, Income and Benefits Policy Center, Urban Institute (moderator)
  • Rick McHugh, senior staff attorney, National Employment Law Project
  • Wayne Vroman, senior fellow, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Urban Institute

Many states’ unemployment insurance programs, which fund the first 26 weeks of benefits, are near bankruptcy. In a fragile recovery with still high unemployment rates, the choice is coming down to raising taxes or cutting benefits to keep the programs afloat. Several states have already opted to reduce benefits.

Unemployment insurance was developed for a bygone economy, where workers were laid off for relatively short periods and many returned to the same employer. Longer and longer spells of unemployment in recent years (even before the Great Recession) have led to sizeable federal expenditures for extending benefits beyond 26 weeks. Concerns also continue over whether the system works for low-wage and less-skilled workers, who are generally less likely to be eligible for benefits.

This forum will discuss some of the key problems facing unemployment insurance and ideas for overhauling the system. Questions to be addressed include:

  • How can the federal government use sticks and carrots to move states to stabilize their programs? 
  • What is the right balance between state and federal roles in unemployment insurance? 
  • How can the system better meet the needs of workers contending with economic turmoil and longer durations of unemployment?


Date & Time Tuesday, March 6, 2012

  • Senior Fellow
  • Urban Institute Associate