US Unemployment Benefits in International Context

Gary Burtless has an interesting paper reviewing the social safety net measures in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If you read the paper you’ll see that even though these elements of ARRA have gotten less discussion than the state aid and infrastructure elements, boosts in safety net spending are actually the largest segment of ARRA spending. For blogging purposes, though, I really just wanted to reproduce this chart showing how relatively stingy unemployment benefits are in the United States:


In addition to being relatively stingy, unemployment insurance in many ways fails to protect people from the most salient economic risks. Older workers tend to earn more money than younger workers, in part because over the years they’ve acquired sector- and firm-specific skills that their younger colleagues lack. When they get laid off, however, these skills become devalued and even when recovery comes it’s often difficult to get a new job that’s as remunerative as the old one. This, in turn, encourages the political system to focus a lot of preservation of the status quo which winds up reducing long-run growth potential. Gene Sperling’s idea of comprehensive wage insurance would help solve this issue and do a lot of good.