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State Failures

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As I’ve said so many times in the last year, nothing highlights the failures of systems that increase inequality like a natural disaster. Throughout the entire pandemic, we’ve seen these issues blow up. Everything from the history of racism in science and medicine leading to Black Americans being wary of vaccines to who dies from COVID to the K-shaped economic recovery, all the last year has done is increase inequality in any number of ways. It has also demonstrated the pathetic governance in so many states, red and blue. For example, the broken Massachusetts unemployment system in a state where massive incompetence is driving people into poverty because they can’t get their deserved checks.

He said the stories are heart wrenching: a husband who is panhandling to help pay for his wife’s medical care or a mother who can’t afford fuel to heat her house.

“It is shockingly dysfunctional,” said Margaret Weir, a professor of political science at Brown University. She identified a few fundamental things going wrong. For starters, the state’s system is inundated. And, although the DUA in Massachusetts has modernized its IT system to deal with fraud, that hasn’t helped the unemployed.

“What studies of these modernized systems show is that they have been set up to be more suspicious of fraud and therefore to slow down the process and to deny more claims,” said Weir.

Over the years the unemployment system has become less and less helpful for the unemployed, Weir said. That’s partly because it is run state by state — and not nationally — and funded by a tax on businesses.

“Many states simply want to keep those taxes as low as possible in order to seem business friendly,” she said. So, the system is chronically underfunded.

In every recession since the system was developed after the Great Depression, Weir said, there’s been talk of reforming or federalizing the unemployment system. So far, nothing has happened. But, she said, things have been so bad during the pandemic that there’s a real chance things will change this time.

However, she acknowledged, future change is unlikely to help all of those people stuck trying to navigate the current system.

This is what happens when have the combination of a failure of federal leadership that leaves states reeling, sucking up to corporate America, and being more worried about catching a few people committing fraud than in ensuring the poor can live. These are all major problems throughout the states. And they have enormous impacts on the people who can least afford to be the butt end of a failed system.

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