This paper presents new evidence on the reasons for the recent decline in
the fraction of unemployed workers who receive unemployment insurance benefits.
Using samples of unemployed workers from the March Current Population Survey,
we estimate the fraction of unemployed workers who are potentially eligible for
benefits in each year and compare this to the fraction who actually receive
unemployment compensation. Perhaps surprisingly, we find that the decline in
the fraction of insured unemployment is due to a decline in the takeup rate for
benefits. Our estimates indicate that takeup rates declined abruptly between
l98O and 1982, leading to a 6 percentage point decline in the fraction of the
unemployed who receive benefits.
We go on to analyse the determinants of the takeup rate for unemployment
benefits, using both aggregated state-level data and micro-data from the Panel
Study of Income Dynamics. Changes in the regional distribution of unemployment
account for roughly one-half of the decline in average takeup rates. The
remainder of the change is largely unexplained.