Unemployment Insurance and Wealth Redistribution

57 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2001 Last revised: 26 Jun 2010

Date Written: 2001


This Article evaluates the merit of liberalizing unemployment insurance eligibility as a means to achieve progressive wealth redistribution-an idea that has recently gained popularity among policymakers and legal scholars. UI provides temporary, partial wage replacement to workers who suffer unexpected job loss, but it tends to exclude workers who have unstable, low-wage jobs (such as temporary workers), or who quit or limit their work hours (e.g., to accommodate family demands). I argue that while redistribution to these workers is a desirable goal, expanding UI is a poor way to do it. First, UI benefits are triggered not by low income potential, but rather by the incidence of job loss (which affects both wealthy and poor workers). Second, a comprehensive and ethical program of support for families with caregiving needs would have design features and goals that diverge sharply from UI. Instead of unemployment insurance, I argue, other methods such as direct tax and transfer programs and comprehensive family assistance programs are superior ways to transfer wealth to poor workers and families with caregiving obligations.

Suggested Citation

Lester, Gillian L. L., Unemployment Insurance and Wealth Redistribution (2001). UCLA, School of Law Research Paper No. 01-2 , UCLA Law Review, Vol. 49, No. 1, 2001, Georgetown Law & Economics Research Paper No. 264550, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 264550, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=264550 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.264550

Gillian L. L. Lester (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10009
212-854-2675 (Phone)

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