Upjohn Author ORCID Identifier


Publication Date



Policy Paper No. 2021-026




This paper examines the uneven pattern of access to unemployment insurance (UI) by age, gender, and race across the United States. We present results from a descriptive analysis using publicly available longitudinal data reported by states on rates of UI recipiency and characteristics of UI beneficiaries. Recipiency measures the proportion of all unemployed who are receiving UI benefits. UI is intended to provide temporary, partial income replacement to involuntarily unemployed UI applicants with strong labor force attachments while they are able, available, and actively seeking return to work. Each of these UI eligibility conditions contributes to the UI recipiency rate being less than 100 percent, and the individual decision to apply for benefits also affects the recipiency rate. We examine each of these factors and find suggestive evidence of reasons for differences in recipiency by age, gender, and race. We discuss practical program reforms to improve equity in access to UI that could be adopted by all states and required by the federal government.

Issue Date

December 2021


Upjohn project #69115

Subject Areas

UNEMPLOYMENT, DISABILITY, and INCOME SUPPORT PROGRAMS; Unemployment insurance; Benefits and duration

ui_equity_replication.zip (8291 kB)
Replication Package




O'Leary, Christopher J., William E. Spriggs, and Stephen A. Wandner. 2021. "Equity in Unemployment Insurance Benefit Access." Policy Paper No. 2021-026. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. https://doi.org/10.17848/pol2021-026