Half of the people who applied for unemployment didn't get it, new report says

Half of the people who applied for unemployment didn't get it, new report says
Hundreds of people line up outside a Kentucky Career Center hoping to find assistance with their unemployment claim in Frankfort, Kentucky, June 18, 2020. Bryan Woolston/Reuters
  • Bloomberg Businessweek found that millions of American didn't get unemployment they applied for.
  • Some applicants were rejected outright, and others simply never received payment.
  • Politicians have called for unemployment reform, but no legislation has passed yet.

Throughout the pandemic, unemployment benefits have taken on a newfound prominence as millions of Americans found themselves jobless - and newly eligible for expanded aid.

But while it's no secret that some states were bogged down with administrative issues for getting that aid out the door, a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek tracks just how many Americans didn't receive any assistance amidst the economic devastation of the recession.

According to Businessweek's estimate, based on a review of Department of Labor data, 64.3 million people applied for benefits from March 1, 2020 through March 31, 2020, and half of them were either turned down or never received any. That's double the rate of denial during the Great Recession.

Broadly, the report estimates, at least 9 million Americans weren't paid benefits who applied for them. The likelihood of receiving benefits seemed to also depend on what state you were in: The report found that 89% of those who applied for benefits in Montana didn't get them, while over 70% of those making claims in California did. One in three applicants in Indiana got benefits.

The amount that someone can receive in benefits also fluctuates state-wide, with additional federal assistance serving to level the playing field somewhat during the pandemic.


"Unemployed workers really had totally different qualities of life, totally different standards of support based solely on where they live," David Cooper, a senior economic analyst at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI), previously told Insider.

Some progressive politicians have pointed to the widespread adoption of pandemic-era unemployment relief measures as evidence that the system should be reformed. The White House put unemployment reform language in its second infrastructure proposal, which has yet to result in a Congressional bill yet.

Unemployment fraud has emerged as a major concern for some, with billions potentially going into the wrong hands. Senators have even proposed offsetting the cost of the bipartisan infrastructure deal by repurposing UI fraud. But, as Businessweek reports, "many states can't say how extensive" fraud is, and "haven't reported numbers to the federal government."

Many Americans who did receive unemployment benefits will see them end soon. Approximately 4 million jobless Americans will see some or all of their benefits end before September as mandated by federal law, as governors in 26 states opted out of federal programs in an attempt to get people back to work.

One of those impacted workers is Keysha Dempsey, 35 years old. She's in Florida, where the additional $300 in weekly benefits winds down tomorrow. She said that she had issues with her account being locked due to fraud, despite not changing any of her information.


"When I was on unemployment in 2015, I didn't go through half of what I went through with them right now. It didn't take me six, seven months at a time just to get my benefits," Dempsey told Insider. "If they had any issues, they had any questions, they were done, it was done."