The Unnoticed Actor: The Employer’s Role in Unemployment Benefit Claims

January 2015

Alix Gould-Werth, University of Michigan

Download '2015-01-npc-working-paper.pdf'.


Unemployment Insurance (UI) is the major government social program designed to provide material support to workers who lose jobs through no fault of their own. Yet, typically fewer than two thirds of workers who lose jobs receive unemployment benefits, and the proportion of low-earning recipients is even smaller. Using data from qualitative interviews with a diverse group of individuals who experienced unemployment between 2008 and 2011, this study identifies the former employer as an important actor affecting the job loser’s interest in pursuing benefit claims and success in that pursuit. This study delineates four employer archetypes: the facilitator, the ignorer, the fighter and the architect. Respondents perceive each type of employer as taking different actions—and having different attitudes—toward their benefit access, which affects respondents’ interest in pursuing benefits. The employer role in benefit claims discourages some workers from taking up UI benefits and, because employer action interacts with worker characteristics to affect benefit access, has disparate consequences for workers of differing earning levels. This paper contributes to the larger literature on benefit take-up by identifying a previously unnoticed actor—the employer—who mediates benefit claims that had been previously theorized as a dyadic relationship between claimants and state actors.