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Millions of people still haven’t received unemployment payments. These states are the worst

“The unemployment system has proven itself incapable of getting payments to unemployed workers in time, if at all.”

Millions of people still haven’t received unemployment payments. These states are the worst
[Photo: Flickr user Peter Burka]

What’s the point of a social safety net if so many people are allowed to slip though it?

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Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, 36.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. But more than two months into the crisis, many have yet to receive any money from their states.

That’s according to a new estimate by One Fair Wage, a nonprofit group that focuses on workers’ rights. Analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the group found that only 56% of unemployment claims have been processed and paid nationwide, and that the percentage of applicants still waiting for benefits varies greatly by state. While states like Connecticut and Vermont have processed 100% of their claims, others like Florida and Alabama didn’t even crack the 40% mark, according to the group’s estimate.

Here are the states with the lowest percentages of benefits paid so far:

  • South Dakota, 7%
  • Hawaii, 32%
  • Florida, 32%
  • Arizona, 38%
  • Alabama, 38%

View image larger here. [Image: courtesy of One Fair Wage]
To complete its analysis, One Fair Wage used national DOL data to “approximate the number of processed claims.” However, it’s not a perfect measure, and the true percentages of applicants who have yet to receive benefits are likely much higher. With an unprecedented flood of newly unemployed people seeking benefits, state websites across the country—many of which run on antiquated software and are maddeningly glitchy even under the best of circumstances—have been unable to handle the demand, an issue compounded by understaffed state labor departments.

The result is that many would-be benefits recipients have yet to be even counted. For instance, in New York, where the report shows 90% of claims have been processed and paid, state officials only recently revealed details of a crippling backlog involving some 1.2 million people. Those claims were finally processed, while another 50,000 were found to be ineligible for traditional unemployment.

“[We know] that many states are internally tracking these numbers and have more accurate accounting,” One Fair Wage says in its report. “We invite states to come forward and provide publicly accessible data on the percentage of claims they have paid. Right now, what these findings show is that the unemployment system has proven itself incapable of getting payments to unemployed workers in time, if at all.”

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About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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