Unemployment Insurance: Payments, Overpayments and Unclaimed Benefits

By Fuller, David L.; Ravikumar, B. et al. | Regional Economist, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Unemployment Insurance: Payments, Overpayments and Unclaimed Benefits


Fuller, David L., Ravikumar, B., Zhang, Yuzhe, Regional Economist


Overpayments in the U.S. unemployment insurance system have received increasing attention of late. For example, CNN.com cited a recent study by the Department of Labor in reporting that 11 percent of all unemployment benefits were overpaid.1 Vice President Joe Biden, charged with leading the Campaign to Cut Waste, said: "Unemployment checks are going to people in prison. Unemployment checks are going to graveyards."

In this article, we examine the U.S. unemployment insurance system's expenditures over a longer horizon. We begin by illustrating the benefits paid from 1989 to 2011. Next, we take a look at the overpayments. Finally, we discuss a fact that is less well-known: Not everyone who is eligible for unemployment benefits actually collects them. Over the longer horizon, these unclaimed benefits are much larger than the overpayments that have received recent attention.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance programs insure workers against the risk of lost income if they lose their job through no fault of their own. In the U.S., the program is run at the state level. Each state sets its benefit level and eligibility criteria, and finances these benefits through payroll taxes.2

Typically, the unemployment benefits last for a maximum of 26 weeks. These regular unemployment benefits paid by the states increased sharply during the recent recession. Measured in 2005 dollars, these benefits more than doubled, from $31 billion in 2007 to almost $72 billion in 2009. Since 2009, these regular benefits have decreased to levels below what they were after the previous recession: In 2011, the unemployment insurance program spent less than $42 billion on regular benefits, while the corresponding figure in 2002 was more than $46 billion.3

In periods of high unemployment, benefits may be continued for additional weeks beyond the regular cap of 26. Most states offer an additional 13 weeks of benefits when the unemployment rate in that state remains above a certain threshold. The federal government may also finance more benefits. For example, the federal government recently provided financing to some states to extend their benefits to a maximum of 99 weeks. During the early 1990s, the extended benefits added 60 percent to the regular benefits. During the past two years, the extended benefits have added more than 125 percent.

Overpayments and Fraud

Some of the unemployment benefit payments were indeed overpayments, as recent newspaper reports suggest. Figure 1 illustrates the amounts overpaid. As a fraction of benefits, the average overpayment during 2007-2011 was 11 percent. During the middle of the recent recession, in 2008, the unemployment benefits amounted to $40 billion and the overpayment was $4 billion (both amounts in 2005 dollars).

The overpayments could stem from simple typographical errors on one extreme to outright fraud on the other extreme. For example, an individual's benefit may be inadvertently set too high because the wrong formula was applied. This represents a simple error. Fraud, on the other hand, is a deliberate act. During 2007-2011, the overpayments due to all 28 categories of fraud accounted for 3 percent of the benefits on average; see Figure 1.4 Put differently, the overpayments due to fraud were roughly a fourth of the total overpayments.

The dominant form of unemployment insurance fraud in recent years is what's classified as "Concealed Earnings" fraud: collection of unemployment benefits by individuals who are gainfully employed. As Figure 2 illustrates, overpayments from Concealed Earnings fraud have been steadily rising over the past 22 years and were almost 70 percent of the overpayments due to fraud in recent years.5

Meanwhile, overpayments due to "Insufficient Job Search" (cases where the unemployed individual did not meet the mandatory work search requirement, such as minimum number of job applications to be filed each week) have been declining and are down to less than 5 percent of fraud.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Unemployment Insurance: Payments, Overpayments and Unclaimed Benefits
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.