Sister, Can You Spare a Dime? Women & Unemployment Insurance


Like peeling away the layers of an onion, the recession has a way of peeling away the protective layers we put up to buffer ourselves from the bumps and jolts of hard times. When our defenses are gone, it’s easy to see who the most vulnerable people are. Right now in this country, the most vulnerable people are, no surprise, women alone with children.

Married women currently have an unemployment rate of 5.7%. Unmarried women, in contrast, are facing a 10.3% unemployment rate. While unmarried women are less than half of all employed women, they constitute 6 out of every 10 unemployed women, which means their unemployment is disproportionate to their representation in the paid workforce. Single women who are heads of households have an unemployment rate of an astonishing 12.6%, which is significantly higher than the national average for unemployment. Unmarried African-American women are currently unemployed at a rate of 15%, and the rate for unmarried Hispanic women is 11.1%, both higher than the unemployment rate for the nation as a whole.

There is no doubt how essential unemployment insurance is as a feature of our “social contract”. Losing your job, like old age or a disabling illness or injury, are known risks that anyone may suffer. We pool our resources to provide some modicum of protection for all through Social Security and unemployment insurance, all funded by contributions from the worker’s paycheck.

Gender matters when it comes to collecting benefits, however. Most states won’t let part-time workers receive unemployment benefits, even when they’ve paid their taxes. Only 14 states will allow a worker unemployment benefits if they quit to follow a spouse’s job relocation, or lose their child care. “Compelling family circumstances” which most often befall women, generally prevent eligibility. It’s no surprise, then, that women are 32% less likely to receive unemployment insurance as men. The system overall falls short of really achieving its intended purpose. Overall, only about 1/3 of unemployed workers receive any benefits at all.

Center for American Progress: Recession brings Higher Unemployment to Unmarried Women
National Employment Law Project: Why Unemployment Insurance Matters to Working Women and Their Families  
Women’s eNews: It’s the Economy


  • Kaylie

    Just shows how our system is built to protect male, married, full-time workers with children.