By Carolyn McConnell, UW School of Law
From CCH Labor Law Journal, Vol. 62, No. 3, Fall 2011
Abstract: From the creation of UI to the present, women have received unemployment benefits at lower rates than men. In some states, men’s rate of receipt of unemployment benefits is 20 percent higher than women’s. Why is this?
One fundamental reason is that UI places structural hurdles in the way of claimants with family caregiving responsibilities. With women disproportionately assigned the work of family caregiving, this disproportionately excludes women from unemployment benefits. Yet women now make up a near-majority of the workforce and most mothers are in the paid workforce. This is one reason why the percentage of those out of work who receive unemployment compensation has fallen dramatically in recent decades, threatening UI’s ability to achieve its twin goals of protecting workers from involuntary unemployment and cushioning the economy against downturns. In the current recession (officially over but with no end in sight for millions of the un- and underemployed), this problem is urgent.
This paper focuses on how the state unemployment systems discriminate against caregivers in their definitions of good cause and availability and offers model statutory provisions to remedy this. Reforming UI would preserve its effectiveness. Yet it would also do much more, helping to reconfigure the American workplace to accommodate caregivers. This analysis of the UI system illuminates the workplace structures that systematically disadvantage caregivers and offers concrete policy suggestions for transforming them.
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