Launching a national unemployment data dashboard

A partnership between New America’s New Practice Lab and The Century Foundation
Blog Post
July 30, 2020
“You cannot fix problems you cannot see — this collaboration between New America and the Century Foundation is a critical part of making sure we build a safety-net that really works for people when they need it most.”

Unemployment rates are increasing at a speed beyond what we've seen in most of our lifetimes. To make matters worse, state Unemployment Insurance (UI) systems are unable to keep up with the increase in applications. Some state systems are relying on decades-old systems that are crumbling under skyrocketing demand, while other state systems that have recently been modernized, such as Florida’s unemployment site, were intentionally designed to keep people from applying. Across the country, people are sharing stories that highlight the shortcomings and failures of our patchwork unemployment insurance system — from impossibly difficult to navigate forms and websites that crash to long wait times.

Congress expanded unemployment insurance benefits to cover millions of people who would not have been eligible for traditional UI (through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance), increased the amount people could receive (Pandemic Unemployment Compensation), and extended the time period for benefits by 13 weeks (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) -- these have served as critical lifelines to millions of people across the county. But a change in policy is only half the battle. The other half? Making sure people can actually access these benefits.

To recover from this crisis, we need a robust public support system that can help us navigate the difficult, precarious, and uncertain employment circumstances brought on by Covid-19. This means redesigning our UI systems to be more user friendly, accessible, and able to scale as needs increase. There are so many issues, though, that states and policymakers may not even know where to begin or even what questions to ask that would allow them to better understand what is or isn’t working.

Much like driving through a storm without windshield wipers, a lack of real-time data and monitoring makes it difficult to see problems and obstacles clearly. In order to build a safety net that works for people when they need it most, we need actionable data, metrics, and insights that highlight where pain points and barriers exist and put into focus what needs to be fixed. With real-time data, policymakers are better equipped to identify and address the highest impact changes to public benefits we can make. Data is a public good and tool that we can use to improve how benefits are delivered to the public.

To understand what opportunities exist for improving unemployment insurance (UI) systems, New America and The Century Foundation partnered with many of the nation’s leading experts on unemployment including the National Employment Law Project, Employ America, Community Legal Services, Policy Matters Ohio and Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality to launch a new interactive unemployment insurance (UI) dashboard that showcases key performance indicators for UI systems nationwide.

We’re focused on surfacing unemployment insurance data in ways that help state and federal leaders understand how to effectively take action. In the dashboard, we highlight:

Our goal is to equip public officials with the data they need to identify systemic failures where they exist so that we can fix them more quickly, and know when changes lead to measurable improvements in delivering benefits for those who are counting on them.