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Survey Points to Potential Racial Disparities in Approval Rates for Unemployment Insurance Claims

The new BPC-Morning Consult poll released last week suggests that racial minorities are underrepresented among current unemployment insurance recipients. An analysis of unemployed workers who were screened by Morning Consult—including those omitted from the sample because they are not receiving UI benefits—reveals that this is due, in part, to striking racial disparities in the approval rates of UI claims. Specifically, this analysis suggests Black and Hispanic workers are significantly less likely to be approved for benefits than white workers.

The new evidence comes in addition to what we already know: communities of color are disproportionately bearing the brunt of job loss, experiencing significant financial hardship, and struggling to afford necessities, such as food and rent, during the pandemic.

Table 1 compares the racial distribution of all unemployed workers in June 2020 to the BPC-Morning Consult sample of UI recipients1.

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Table 1. Racial Makeup of Unemployed Workers and UI Recipients*

*Sources: Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2020, [Accessed July 23, 2020]; Bipartisan Policy Center – Morning Consult Poll: Unemployment Insurance and Caregiving Responsibilities During COVID-19, Bipartisan Policy Center, July 23, 2020.
**Note: Figures are not seasonally adjusted because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report seasonally adjusted figures for “Non-Hispanic” labor force statistics. Figures may not add due to rounding.

Race/EthnicityUnemployed, June 2020**UI Recipients, BPC-MC Poll June 19, 2020 – July 6, 2020
White (non-Hispanic)50%78%
Hispanic23%10%
Black (non-Hispanic)16%9%
Asian & Other11%13%

While some of the disparity found in our analysis may be attributable to the survey sample, a gap such as that in Table 1 suggests that the racial composition of UI recipients may skew white and underrepresent Black and Hispanic workers. While white workers accounted for 50% of unemployed workers in June 2020, they made up 78% of the BPC-Morning Consult sample of UI recipients at around the same time frame. Meanwhile, Hispanic workers represented 23% of the unemployed population but just 10% of the sample of UI recipients, and Black workers accounted for 16% of the currently unemployed but only 9% of the sample of UI recipients.

To understand why the BPC-Morning Consult poll of UI recipients underrepresented workers of color, Morning Consult provided data from the outreach of the survey. The poll focused on workers receiving UI benefits, and therefore excluded workers whose claims have been rejected. Morning Consult typically does not collect data on individuals excluded from a poll, but after noticing a high frequency of unemployed workers not receiving UI benefits, they began to collect demographic information on workers who reported that their UI claims were rejected. The result is a sample of 1,222 unemployed workers polled between June 23 and July 7, 2020, who stated that their UI claims received eligibility determinations and were either approved (and included in the main poll) or rejected (and excluded from the main poll).2

Overall, based on the information respondents provided, UI claims by Black and Hispanic workers that received an eligibility determination were substantially less likely to be approved than those by white workers. Only 58% of UI claims by Black respondents were approved, compared to 78% of those from white respondents. Hispanic workers were also considerably less likely to be approved for UI benefits than white workers, with a 69% approval rate. This analysis suggests that the population of UI recipients could underrepresent workers of color, in part, because their claims have a lower approval rate than those of white workers.

Table 2. UI Claims Approval Rates, by Race

*The sample size of Asian and other races is too small to report the results.

Race/EthnicityApproval Rate
Total74%
White (non-Hispanic)78%
Hispanic69%
Black (non-Hispanic)58%
Asian & Other*N/A

Even as UI is providing crucial financial relief to tens of millions of dislocated workers, it appears that the program may be rejecting claims at high rates for the very communities who are suffering the greatest health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This phenomenon could be explained by a number of factors and identifying them are outside the scope of this analysis. Congress, however, should take a close look at these potential demographic disparities in benefit claims processing as it considers the next round of pandemic relief.

End Notes:

1 It is important to note that the racial demographics of UI recipients in the BPC-Morning Consult sample is not fully consistent with official demographic data of continuing UI claims, reported by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA). In general, relative to the poll sample, ETA reports that a lower portion of UI recipients are white and a higher portion are Black and Hispanic. These two data sets, however, are not directly comparable for a number of reasons, which could partially or fully explain the differences. Most importantly, ETA is unable to identify the race of more than 20% of UI claimants and it excludes more than 10 million workers receiving UI benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The BPC-Morning Consult poll provides a more comprehensive view of all workers receiving UI benefits. ETA’s demographic data can be found here: https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/chariu.asp.
2 Notably, unemployed workers who did not apply for benefits, or did apply and are still waiting for their eligibility determination, are excluded from this analysis.

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