North Carolina needs a better balance to our unemployment insurance system

The Governor has announced that another $600 million tax cut for businesses will be implemented after the state has reached an arbitrary balance of $1 billion in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund through drastic cuts that have harmed jobless workers by reducing the accessibility of the program, eliminating support for skills training and shrinking the critical wage replacement function of the program.

After jobless workers contributed more than two-thirds of the dollars to get North Carolina to this moment in lost wage replacement, now must be the time to re-balance the choices made in 2013 to reflect the principles of a sound unemployment insurance system.

That means recognizing that the economy needs jobless workers to maintain their consumer spending at a basic level in order to sustain demand for businesses goods and services.  Without temporary wage replacement, the ripple effect through the community of North Carolinians (who have lost their job through no fault of their own) not being able to shop for groceries, pay utility bills or mortgage payments or put gas in the car to get to job interviews holds back our communities from a strong recovery and growth.

As we have written about in the past, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund was ill-prepared for the Great Recession after policymakers cut taxes for employers in good times.  With the announcement today, North Carolina appears poised to make the same mistake: underfunding the program in good times leading to ineffective stabilization of the economy in bad times when jobless workers lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

In the meantime, jobless workers today still face a labor market with too few jobs for those who want to work, limited skills training opportunities and a system that is increasingly inaccessible.  North Carolina had just 13 percent of jobless workers receiving unemployment insurance in the second quarter of 2015 down from 39 percent in the second quarter of 2013 and ranking us 49th in the nation. Our economy needs a system that works for jobless workers and employers alike: the current approach continues to do neither.

 

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