Type: Public event

UI reform: Where do we go from here?

A public dialogue led by the Honorable Sandy Levin

Date & time

Jun 16-17, 2022, 10:00 am-3:00 pm EDT


This is a Virtual Event.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government expanded the unemployment insurance system in unprecedented ways, stabilizing individual households and the U.S. economy during a global pandemic, and jumpstarting the economic recovery. This significant federal intervention was needed because, under normal circumstances, our UI system fails to cover enough workers, pay out sufficient benefits, and meaningfully connect displaced workers with new opportunities for training and employment. If the existing system had remained in effect during the pandemic, it would have failed to achieve its central aims of stabilizing individual households through temporary job loss, and the macro economy during economic downturns.

To ensure the lessons learned during the pandemic are not lost, the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy is hosting a two-day virtual symposium with participation by some of the nation’s leading experts on our UI system. Participants will discuss the critical issues facing the system, including the appropriate roles for the federal and state governments, ensuring adequate benefits and coverage for more workers, the role of the UI system in training and retraining workers, and how to properly fund this vital social and economic system.

This event is chaired by Sandy Levin, who has continued his three decades of work on UI in Congress as the Distinguished Policymaker in Residence at the Ford School. Professor Luke Shaefer, Director of Poverty Solutions, will join Sandy in leading the event. 

Session 1: Investing in UI

June 16, 10:00am – 11:30am ET
Any discussion of the future of our UI system must start with how such a system will be funded. Building a system that covers more workers, provides adequate income support to households, stimulates the economy during economic downturns, and serves as the training and retraining hub of our workforce system will require unprecedented investment in the system. We will begin by discussing leading proposals for properly financing such a system, both through state and federal mechanisms. Particular attention will be placed on the appropriate role of the federal and state governments in such a system, given the tendency for state governments to underfund their own systems. 


  • Alix Gould-Werth, director of family economic security policy, Washington Center for Equitable Growth
  • Robert Pavosevich, retired actuary division chief, Department of Labor
  • Stephen Wandner, research fellow, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research; nonresident fellow, Urban Institute; senior fellow, National Academy of Social Insurance
  • Stephen Woodbury, professor of economics, Michigan State University, and senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
  • Moderated by H. Luke Shaefer, Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, University of Michigan, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and faculty director of the Poverty Solutions Initiative
Session 2: Rightsizing UI

June 16, 1:30pm – 3:00pm ET
In normal economic times, UI benefits in many states are not adequate to ensure economic stability for a household after job loss. During an economic recession, these meager benefits, as well as limited coverage, collectively fail to serve as a robust macroeconomic stabilizer, causing federal policymakers to scramble to expand coverage and boost benefits to avoid economic catastrophe. We will explore different proposals that identify the appropriate benefit level and duration of benefits to ensure UI serves to stabilize households and the macro economy, while not discouraging employment. Attention will again be placed on the appropriate roles of federal and state governments in this system, what is mandated and what is left flexible, and appropriate means of financing such a system. We will also explore the past performance of automatic “triggers” into the system, and how they should be restructured.


  • Asha Banerjee, economic analyst, Economic Policy Institute
  • Michele Evermore, deputy director for policy, office of unemployment modernization, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Jenna Gerry, senior staff attorney, National Employment Law Project
  • Rachael Kauss, senior tax policy advisor, Senate Finance Committee
  • Chris O’Leary, senior economist, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
  • William Raderman, employment policy analyst, Niskanen Center
  • Moderated by Indivar Dutta-Gupta, President and Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy
Session 3: Filling in the gaps

June 17, 10:00am – 11:30am ET
Our unemployment insurance system covers a low share of unemployed workers. Gig workers, many of whom should rightly be classified as employees, and other self-employed workers make up an ever-increasing proportion of the U.S. labor market, but have not historically been covered by UI. Part-time workers and low earners are also often not covered, and many others face administrative barriers that prevent them from accessing benefits. We will dig into innovative models for covering more workers and reducing barriers to access.


  • Ben Gitis, associate director, Economic Policy Project, Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Nick Gwyn, consultant, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Elda Solomon, policy manager, Unemployed Workers United
  • Andrew Stettner, senior fellow, Century Foundation
  • Amy Traub, senior researcher and policy analyst, National Employment Law Project
  • Moderated by Alix Gould-Werth, Director of Family Economic Security Policy, Washington Center for Equitable Growth


Session 4: Worker training and retraining

June 17, 1:30pm – 3:00pm ET
Many advocates envision UI as the hub of the entire workforce development system, that not only provides displaced workers with income support, but a pathway to a new, and perhaps better job. In practice, the UI system rarely plays this role effectively. We will explore proposals that seek to establish the unemployment insurance system not only as a household and macroeconomic stabilizer, but also as a mechanism by which out of work Americans can be exposed to new opportunities.


  • Matt Darling, employment policy fellow, Niskanen Center
  • Mary Gable, public policy analyst, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
  • Amy Simon, principal, Simon Advisory; former acting deputy assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), U.S. Department of Labor
  • William Spriggs, professor of economics, Howard University; chief economist, AFL-CIO
  • Moderated by H. Luke Shaefer, Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, University of Michigan, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and faculty director of the Poverty Solutions Initiative