By April 2020, two months into the pandemic, the unemployment rate reached a staggering 14.7%—leaving 23 million workers and their families without earned income. Job losses were largest among low-wage workers, who are disproportionately young workers, women, and people of color. Meanwhile, state unemployment insurance (UI) systems, which were quickly overwhelmed with applicants, had low benefit amounts, long wait times, and low rates of recipiency even for those eligible for UI. Without quick action from Congress, UI programs could not meet the immense need catalyzed by the pandemic.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), passed in March 2020, expanded UI by creating three new programs that significantly increased benefit levels, extended the number of benefit weeks available, and expanded eligibility, respectively. In the first year of COVID-19, one in four American workers relied on UI benefits to weather job loss during the pandemic. Largely because of these expansions, UI kept 5.5 million people, including 1.4 million children, out of poverty in 2020.
The above excerpt was originally published in ProsperUS.
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