Working Paper

Unemployment Insurance during a Pandemic


Abstract: The CARES Act implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis dramatically increased the generosity of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, triggering concerns about substantial effects on unemployment. This paper combines a labor market search-matching model with the SIR-type infection dynamics to study the effects of the CARES Act UI on both unemployment and infection. More generous UI policies create work disincentives and lead to higher unemployment but also reduce infection and save lives. Economic shutdown policies further amplify these effects of UI policies. Quantitatively, the CARES UI policies raise unemployment by an average of 3.7 percentage points over April to December 2020, but also reduce cumulative death by 4.7 percent. Eligibility expansion and the extra $600 increase in benefit level account for over 90 percent of the total effects, while the 13-week benefit duration extension plays a much smaller role. Overall, UI policies improve the welfare of workers and reduce the welfare of non-workers, both young and old.

Keywords: COVID-19; Unemployment insurance; CARES Act; Search and matching models;

JEL Classification: E24; J64; J65;

https://doi.org/10.18651/RWP2020-07

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

Part of Series: Research Working Paper

Publication Date: 2020-08-06

Number: RWP 20-07