The fact that a compulsory government program and not the private market provides unemployment insurance can be explained using the concepts of adverse selection and moral hazard.
Adverse selection refers to the fact that “workers who have the highest probability of becoming unemployed have the highest demand for unemployment insurance.” Adverse selection causes profit maximizing private insurance agencies to set high premiums for the insurance because there is a high likelihood they will have to make payments to the policyholder. High premiums work to exclude many individuals who otherwise might purchase the insurance. “A compulsory government program avoids the adverse selection problem. Hence, government provision of UI has the potential to increase efficiency. However, government provision does not eliminate moral hazard.”
“At the same time, those workers who managed to obtain insurance might experience more unemployment otherwise would have been the case.” The private insurance company would have to determine whether the employee is unemployed through no fault of their own, which is difficult to determine. Incorrect determinations could result in the payout of significant amounts for fraudulent claims or alternately failure to pay legitimate claims. This leads to the rationale that if government could solve either problem that government intervention would increase efficiency.
Unemployment insurance effect on unemployment
In the Great Recession, the “moral hazard” issue of whether unemployment insurance—and specifically extending benefits past the maximum 99 weeks—significantly encourages unemployment by discouraging workers from finding and taking jobs, has been expressed by Republican legislators. Conservative economist Robert Barro found that benefits raised the unemployment rate 2%. Disagreeing with Barro's study were Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein, who found the “vast majority” of unemployment was due to “demand shocks” not “[unemployment insurance]-induced supply reductions.” A study by Rothstein of extensions of unemployment insurance to 99 weeks during the Great Recession to test the hypothesis that unemployment insurance discourages people from seeking jobs found the overall effect of UI on unemployment was to raise it by no more than one-tenth of one percent.
A November report by the Congressional Budget Office found that even if unemployment benefits convince some unemployed to ignore job openings, these openings were quickly filled by new entrants into the labor market. A survey of studies on unemployment insurances’s effect on employment by the Political Economy Research Institute found that unemployed who collected benefits did not find themselves out of work longer than those who didn’t have unemployment benefits; and that unemployed workers did not search for work more or reduce their wage expectations once their benefits ran out.
One concern over unemployment insurance increasing unemployment is based on experience rating benefit uses which can sometimes be imperfect. That is, the cost to the employer in increased taxes is less than the benefits that would be paid to the employee upon layoff. The firm in this instance believes that it is more cost effective to lay off the employee, causing more unemployment than under perfect experience rating.
An alternative to unemployment insurance intended to reduce the moral hazard costs would introduce mandated individual saving accounts for workers to draw on after being laid off. The plan, by Martin Feldstein would pay any positive account balance at retirement to the employee.
Effect on state budgets
Another issue with unemployment insurance relates to its effects on state budgets. During recessionary time periods, the number of unemployed rises and they begin to start drawing benefits from the program. The longer the recession lasts, depending on the state’s starting UI program balance, the quicker the state begins to run out of funds. The recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 has significantly impacted state budgets. According to The Council of State Governments, by March 18, 2011, 32 states plus the Virgin Islands had borrowed nearly $45.7 billion. The Labor Department estimates by the fourth quarter of 2013, as many as 40 states may need to borrow more than $90 billion to fund their unemployment programs and it will take a decade or more to pay off the debt.
Possible policy options for states to shore up the unemployment insurance funds include lowering benefits for recipients and/or raising taxes on businesses. Kentucky took the approach of raising taxes and lowering benefits to attempt to balance its unemployment insurance program. Starting in 2010, a claimant’s weekly benefits will decrease from 68% to 62% and the taxable wage base will increase from $8,000 to $12,000, over a ten-year period. These moves are estimated to save the state over $450 million.
Taxing or exempting benefits
The argument for taxation of social welfare benefits is that they result in a realized gain for a taxpayer. The argument against taxation is that the benefits are generally less than the federal poverty level.
Unemployment compensation has been taxable by the federal government since 1987. Code Section 85 deemed unemployment compensation included in gross income. Federal taxes are not withheld from unemployment compensation at the time of payment unless requested by the recipient using Form W-4V. In 2003, Rep. Philip English introduced legislation to repeal the taxation of unemployment compensation, but the legislation did not advance past committee. Most states with income tax consider unemployment compensation to be taxable. Prior to 1987, unemployment compensation amounts were excluded from federal gross income. For the US Federal tax year of 2009, as a result of the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed by Barack Obama on February 17, 2009 the first $2,400 worth of unemployment income received during the 'tax year' of 2009 will be exempted from being considered as taxable income on the Federal level, when American taxpayers file their 2009 IRS tax return paperwork in early 2010.
Job sharing / short-time working
Job sharing or work sharing and short time or short-time working refer to situations or systems in which employees agree to or are forced to accept a reduction in working time and pay. These can be based on individual agreements or on government programs in many countries that try to prevent unemployment. In these, employers have the option of reducing work hours to part-time for many employees instead of laying off some of them and retaining only full-time workers. For example, employees in 18 states of the United States can then receive unemployment payments for the hours they are no longer working.
International Labour Convention
International Labour Organization has adopted the Employment Promotion and Protection against Unemployment Convention, 1988 for promotion of employment against unemployment and social security including unemployment benefit.