A Path to Fixing Unemployment Insurance


When COVID-19 hit the U.S., business and daily life halted as people knew it. In April 2020, more than 18 million Americans were on temporary layoff status. People who applied for unemployment  benefits to access critical aid faced many problems getting assistance they needed to survive. These problems included: 

  • Confusing paper forms that often had to be mailed in
  • A website that was hard to access for mobile users, people who spoke English as a second language, and people with disabilities 
  • Uncertainty on their status after submitting a claim
  • Confusing notices of award that showed $0 in benefits
  • Unnecessarily complex security questions 
  • Confusing instructions for submitting the correct ID forms 

Individual states — facing a surge in applications — worked tirelessly to help applicants navigate the process while also combatting an unprecedented wave of fraudulent activity. In a rush to help applicants get the support they needed, many states tried new processes and learned a lot about what was — and was not — working. The New Practice Lab partnered with Bloom to document successes across states and share it so other states might benefit from those lessons learned.


The team collaborated with more than 50 advocacy groups, partners, dozens of state leaders, and many unemployed workers.Through a 4-week discovery sprint, our team distilled insights from these conversations to develop a playbook for improving the delivery of unemployment insurance. 

  • Synthesized research from 70 interviews and conversations 
  • Analyzed more than 40 reports on unemployment research
  • Designed and built a digital framework for the centralized playbook: https://improveunemployment.com/


The team created a playbook that presents a bold yet achievable North Star vision for what unemployment benefits can be, and the concrete steps needed to get there — concrete steps that, in almost every case, individual states have already tested. 

The group achieved the project goal of creating one central "library" of improvements that states, vendors, and policymakers could reference, and contribute back to.The group has presented these findings to the Department of Labor, and the playbook has been a useful reference for those working to improve unemployment insurance. As the economy continues to change, unemployment benefits need to reflect the shifting needs of the workforce. While most states’ unemployment systems remain far from “modernized,” the playbook creates a foundation for states to build on in the future.


This report was co-authored by Ryan Burke, Mikey Dickerson, Lauren Lockwood, Tara McGuinness, Marina Nitze, Ayushi Roy, and Emily Wright-Moore. The corresponding website was edited and built by the Bloom team.

If you just replicated the 20 best things states are doing, you’d do a lot of good to get a lot more individuals access to unemployment insurance...
Tara Dawson McGuinness, the founder of New America’s New Practice Lab, to State Scoop


  • Discovery Sprint
  • User Research
  • UI/UX Design
  • Content Development
  • Software Development

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