Unemployment Insurance Needs More Reforms for Part-Time Workers

Unemployment insurance is the social safety net that allows workers and families to survive job scarcity in a volatile economy. Know the laws in your state.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) states that one of the major problems with unemployment insurance is its inability to keep up with changes in the workforce, including growth of part-time jobs, and the number of women who have joined the labor force.

The federal government has the duty to set minimum requirements for states to pay workers unemployment insurance. Currently, states must offer at least 26 weeks of jobless benefits to the eligible unemployed. When state funds run out, the federal government is also responsible for paying extended jobless benefits, which they are doing more often, due to the increase in long-term unemployment. NELP works with each individual state to improve unemployment insurance benefits and to decrease the gap between the labor force and eligibility for benefits.

NELP is advocating for part-time workers to enjoy more unemployment insurance benefits. Many women choose to work part-time in order to fulfill child care or family responsibilities, and the family depends upon their incomes. Should they lose their jobs, they are exempt from unemployment insurance in half of the United States, unless they actively seek full-time work during the period in which they are receiving benefits. If they look for the part-time work that they want and can accept, they are not allowed to receive benefits. This is illogical and puts their families in severe economic distress.

NELP's fact sheet on part-time workers and unemployment insurance lists nine states that offer part-time workers parity. In other words, if you work 20 hours instead of 40 hours per week, you have 50 percent parity. These nine parity states are the most favorable to part-time workers who suffer job loss:

  • California
  • Delaware
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

Some other states offer part-time workers unemployment insurance based upon prior part-time work history, or offer much more limited benefits to part-time workers. As stated above, a full half of the states in the union still require full-time availability to receive unemployment benefits. Check the rules of your state here.

The fact that the other half of the nation has loosened the rules to allow unemployment insurance eligibility for part-time workers is a sign that we are getting closer to pay equity for women and part-time workers in the workplace. We still have a very long way to go. 

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