Unemployment Compensation and Older Workers

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O'Leary, Christopher J.; Wandner, Stephen A.
W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
unemployment insurance; employment insurance; unemployment compensation; UI; older workers; retirement; phased retirement; LABOR MARKET ISSUES; Retirement and pensions; UNEMPLOYMENT, DISABILITY, and INCOME SUPPORT PROGRAMS; Unemployment insurance; Economics; Labor Economics; Social and Behavioral Sciences
report description
Unemployment compensation in the United States is provided through a federal-state system of unemployment insurance (UI). UI provides temporary partial wage replacement to active job seekers who are involuntarily out of work. For older workers, UI is an important source of income security and a potential influence on work incentives. For many, the transition from full-time work in a career job to retirement is voluntary and orderly. For others, job displacement greatly disrupts plans. The transition often involves many intermediate steps. The chain of transitions may include full- or part-time work on another job which most often is not in the same industry and occupation (a bridge job). There may also be movement between bridge jobs, perhaps back from a bridge job to a career job, and finally a gradual movement into full retirement while out of the labor force. Many issues at the forefront of current UI policy debate are also issues of prime importance to those in the second half of their working life. Issues occur in all the standard areas of UI policy: coverage, eligibility, benefit adequacy, duration of benefits, work incentives, benefit financing, and interaction with other programs. This paper provides a brief background sketch of the labor market situation of older workers to examine issues of prime concern to older workers in these areas of UI policy. Our survey of policy issues suggests that changes in UI rules concerning, initial eligibility, continuing eligibility, wage replacement, and partial benefits should all be examined to evaluate effects on the likely employment patterns of older workers. Particular attention should be given to UI features affecting the choice of self-employment, part-time work, seasonal work, and agricultural jobs. The financing consequences of possible UI program changes should also be estimated, as should the macroeconomic impact of broadening recipiency. UI program features which would promote flexible and extended labor force participation by older workers should also enrich the employment choice environment for other workers. Therefore, it would be useful to examine the impact of such program changes on UI as a built-in stabilizer of aggregate expenditures. While younger workers are usually committed to long-term participation in the labor force, older citizens are often more flexible in choosing to use their time. Worsening labor shortage conditions in the United States mean that efforts to retain older workers in the labor force will intensify. The current and potential influence of UI on the income security and labor force participation of older workers should be well understood.