Changing Economy Changing Lives: Unemployment Insurance and the Contingent Workforce
Boston University Public Interest Law Journal, Vol. 4, p. 291, 1995
24 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2009
Date Written: April 4, 1995
The U.S. unemployment insurance system was created to address both an economy and a workforce with differing characteristics than our current ones. Accompanying the economic and demographic transformations, we have seen a steady decline in the percentage of unemployed workers receiving unemployment insurance benefits. In this article, I identify a range of legal issues and advocacy opportunities that arise from these changes.
The economy has undergone a major transformation away from the assumption of job stability contemplated by those who designed the nation’s unemployment insurance system. This transformation includes a shift from manufacturing jobs to service jobs and accompanying decline in unionization; an increasing gap between high-paying jobs for highly skilled and educated workers and low-skilled, low-paying unskilled ones, marked by a decrease in the real value of the minimum wage, and a rising differential between average wages and executive salaries; and a trend away from job security and long-term employment toward increased reliance on contract, temporary, and part-time workers.
Since the unemployment compensation system was enacted, women have entered the workforce in large numbers, the racial and ethnic diversity of the workforce has increased, and formal exclusions from employment have been removed. Women and workers of color are disproportionately found among service, part-time and temporary workers, however, and the system as originally designed did not address the needs of “non-standard” workers.
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