There are many reasons why America’s system of economic security is not working. Chief among them is a common factor in almost all of our social policies: they are designed with the assumption that people are constantly employed. For example, most social insurance programs, from Social Security to Unemployment Insurance to Medicare, require people to build up years of contributions before they can access benefits.1
The problem is that the American economy is increasingly shifting towards higher and higher levels of employment insecurity. Several years into an economic recovery, the unemployment rate is at 8.5 percent, the underemployment rate is at 17.2% percent, and the proportion of the population that is working is stuck well below pre-recession levels.2
Even those numbers understate the extent of employment insecurity. Between 2004 and 2007, a period of strong economic growth, 43 million workers (nearly a third of the workforce) experienced a spell of unemployment, with the average worker experiencing 1.5 periods of unemployment lasting for more than two months.3
Despite this gaping hole in our social safety net, the U.S. has no policy to keep people from losing their jobs or getting them work when they lose their jobs. If we want to keep our social contract intact, we have to establish new policies to ensure that Americans who want to work have jobs.
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