The Changing Structure of Employment and Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance during the Great Recession
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
University of Missouri
Structural changes to employment during and after the Great Recession indicate a decline in the quality and quantity of employment opportunities for many Americans. Evidence of long-term challenges to employment, such as slow job growth following the Great Recession and the growing concentration of employment in low-wage low-productivity sectors, has led many researchers to advocate for social policy responses rather than market responses. Yet, social programs are notoriously inflexible to nontraditional work arrangements and job instability. This suggests a growing need to examine whether and to what extent structural changes in employment have produced inequalities in terms of access to the social protections, and whether and to what extent changes to eligibility determinants for social programs mediate these inequalities.
Focusing on the federal-state Unemployment Compensation program, better known as Unemployment Insurance (UI), I use a simple decomposition analysis to examine changes over time in the factors associated with eligibility for unemployment insurance for both employed and unemployed workers. I focus specifically on the dynamics of occupational and industrial composition to examine how the changing structure of employment impacts access to the social safety-net. For the analysis I use self-reported longitudinal data from the 2004 and 2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation. These combined panels allow for the observation of individual employment patterns and employment characteristics from 2005 to 2013, capturing the period leading up to the Great Recession, the Great Recession, and the recovery. Unprecedented levels of unemployment and lengths of unemployment spells combined with federal efforts to push states to expand eligibility for their UI programs during this period provide the opportunity to examine whether and to what extent inequalities in access to social protections due to the changing structure of employment were mediated by changes in UI eligibility determinants.
The paper contributes to research in the area of employment structure, labor market inequalities, and social programs in a number of ways. First, it extends the examination of the consequences of the changing employment structure in the US beyond income inequality and describes how these changes have eroded social protections for many groups of workers. Second, the analysis paints a rich picture of the pathways to receiving unemployment insurance by indicating discrepancies between which groups of workers are the mostly likely to experience job loss versus which groups of workers are the mostly likely to be eligible for UI. Finally, given that the eligibility for UI differs significantly for different groups of employed and unemployed workers, the analysis lays the groundwork for examining the consequences of exclusion from social protections on a number of important measures of individual and household well-being.
Understanding how changes to eligibility determinants mediate inequalities caused by the changing structure of employment should be of particular interest to policy makers and researchers because many of the policy extensions related to UI eligibility and duration of benefits have now expired.