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OFF-KILTER with Rebecca Vallas

Sep 24, 2021

For all the talk about what’s in “Build Back Better” recovery legislation that Democrats are trying to move through Congress, one thing that’s not currently in the bill, in what many workers’ advocates say is a glaring omission, is anything to do with Unemployment Insurance—which was badly in need of a refresh long before the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure that when workers lose a job, they have the protection they need. 

In fact, workers’ advocates and progressive think tanks have been ringing the alarm bells for years about how few jobless workers were protected by our UI system. The pre-pandemic share of jobless workers actually helped by UI in their time of need? Just 1 in 4, a record low.

One of the most important lessons from the pandemic is without question the structural failings in America’s Unemployment Insurance system—gaps that were in many cases briefly filled by temporary expansions of jobless protections that have since been allowed to expire, leaving millions of still-jobless workers with less than they need to get by, or worse, nothing at all to keep them and their families afloat.

For a look at the state of Unemployment Insurance now that recent expansions have been allowed to run out, what jobless workers are facing right now, and the long-needed UI fixes that workers’ advocates are hoping might still be included in upcoming recovery legislation… for this week’s Off-Kilter, Rebecca sat down with a panel of UI experts and advocates who have been leading the charge: Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project; Andy Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation; and Stephanie Freed, a freelancer turned UI organizer who founded and serves as the executive director of Extend PUA, which has organized tens of thousands of jobless workers in the fight to extend federal UI expansions during the pandemic.