Why Unemployment Insurance Exists

After the stock market crash in October 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression of the 1930’s, the national unemployment rate exceeded 25%. Simultaneously, throughout the world, industrialized nations began creating systems of insurance to support and compensate workers for wages lost during periods of unemployment. Nearly all of these nationalized systems became compulsory as each government enforced the coverage using laws, regulations and taxing powers to fund the growing financial liability.

The primary purpose of unemployment insurance is to deliver economic assistance and compensation to employees for wages lost during periods of economic decline and/or periods of involuntary unemployment. A secondary purpose, and one most relevant during the years that followed the Great Depression, is to keep the trained labor force in one location from dispersing to other locations where jobs are more plentiful.

The structure of unemployment compensation in the United States is a federal (FUTA, aka Federal Unemployment Tax Administration) and state (SUI, or state unemployment insurance, aka SUTA, State Unemployment Tax Administration) partnership that obligated states to comply with laws that occurred as a result of the Social Security Act of 1935. While the Act imposed a FUTA tax on all employers, a credit against federal taxes was provided if they paid state taxes to states with unemployment laws that met FUTA requirements and had solvent Unemployment Trust Funds. For example, employers in Massachusetts, Oregon and Tennessee were charged a 2014 FUTA tax rate of 0.6%, since their state unemployment agencies all have solvent Unemployment Trust Funds and meet FUTA requirements. Employers in Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio had 2014 FUTA rate of 1.8%, since their Unemployment Trust Funds are insolvent and are therefore not eligible for a credit.

The Act gave states the autonomy to determine their preferred mechanisms of their own SUI programs. Consequently, the 50 state SUI programs and taxing procedures are all quite different and have contrasting impacts on employers. In the USA, as a matter of perspective, in 2014, the estimated 50 state average employer tax contribution as a percentage of gross wages ranges from a low of 0.36% (South Dakota) to a high of 1.71% (Washington), with a national average of 0.82%. Consequently, an employer with a $2,000,000 payroll would have a tax cost of as low as $7,200 in South Dakota and as high as $34,200 in Washington.

J Randall Stevenson, began his career as an employer advocate in the unemployment field in 1970. His SUI experience, knowledge and expertise in state and national SUI matters is varied and distinguished.

 

Source: First Nonprofit Group’s “Financial Mechanics of Funding SUTA” series

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