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Michael R. Strain

Let’s Provide Unemployment Benefits Without Layoffs

States could keep more workers on the job by reimbursing those whose hours are reduced by the coronavirus economy. Why aren’t they doing it?

Better than nothing.

Better than nothing.

Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

Another week, another round of millions of workers filing for unemployment benefits. Data from the Department of Labor released Thursday morning show that over the past seven weeks, 33.5 million unemployed workers filed first-time claims for benefits. For context, during the Great Recession, the worst seven-week period for new unemployment filings ended on April 4, 2009, with 4.6 million new claims.

The scale of economic collapse associated with the coronavirus pandemic highlights the urgency of keeping workers connected with their employers, and finding ways to bring the unemployment rate down rapidly. One policy that could do more to accomplish those goals is work-sharing, a grossly underutilized form of unemployment insurance that reimburses workers for reductions in their work hours.