The People’s Parity Project contributed to the latest special issue of the UCLA Law Review, entitled Law Meets World. In “Making Unemployment Insurance Work For Working People,” PPP organizers Emma Janger, Nicole Rubin, and Sejal Singh wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the failures of our social safety net—and also the urgent reforms needed to save and strengthen unemployment insurance.
During just the first four months the COVID-19 pandemic, 50 million people applied for unemployment insurance. The COVID-19 economic crisis has exposed a frayed social safety net that simply does not work for working people. In this Article, we describe how the unemployment insurance system punishes working people, rather than supporting them, in times of crisis; excludes many vulnerable workers, especially workers of color; and is being weaponized to force workers back onto the pandemic’s front lines without adequate safety measures in place. These acute failures are the result of a decades-long right-wing campaign to shred unemployment insurance and the social safety net—which reflects a system of racial capitalism that rests on deep and dangerous inequality. This Article also identifies the urgent reforms needed to save and strengthen unemployment insurance and discusses lawyers’ roles in both meeting immediate needs in the COVID-19 crisis and supporting movements building longterm worker power.