Last week as the Budget & Tax Center released its analysis of the impact of unemployment insurance changes on jobless workers one year later, the Department of Commerce Employment Security Division announced that the unemployment insurance debt will be paid down early.
The resolution of the debt in August 2015 rather than November 2015 will mean that employers will no longer have to pay an additional federal tax that resulted when the Trust Fund came due for the following year. That federal tax represented the primary contribution employers were making to address the debt that was created as a result of tax cuts that they received in the 1990s and the historic job loss of the Great Recession.
As we wrote about in our report released last week, the vast majority of the savings that allowed for this accelerated repayment came from benefits cuts that primarily have reduced the maximum available weeks and the average weekly benefit amount. Both of these changes have hurt jobless workers as they have fewer dollars to make ends meet and continue their job search.
Moreover, because jobless workers have fewer dollars to spend in local communities, these cuts have a ripple effect in local economies. Estimates suggest in this recession and recovery that for every $1 of unemployment insurance payments, $2 in economic activity is either sustained or generated. Each month the fewer dollars for jobless workers is impacting their spending and ability to participate in local economies twofold.
This economic impact and the harm to jobless workers and costs to the state to help these families in other ways are reason enough for policymakers to change the most harmful aspects of current law. By delinking the number of weeks from the unemployment rate to 26 weeks like the majority of states offer and by changing the benefit calculation formula to the two highest quarters of previous earnings while also seriously reforming the state financing of unemployment insurance through a forward financing model, the system can be put back into balance and the debt can still be repaid.