John Oliver takes an eye-opening deep dive into Americas broken unemployment system

With the coronavirus leading to unprecedented job losses in the U.S. last year, John Oliver turned his attention to America’s unemployment system for his latest Last Week Tonight deep dive — and the picture was anything but rosy.

“Over the years our system has badly broken down,” says Oliver. “Something that became painfully clear this time last year, when it was overwhelmed by new claims.”

Over the course of the next 20 minutes, Oliver dives into a system plagued with low recipiency rates, huge differences depending on where applicants live, and a massive racial disparity at its core.

“In the very short term, states need funding to upgrade their broken technology,” Oliver concludes. “They also need to remove a lot of the stupid obstacles that prevent applicants who need help from getting it. But in the long term, we need some big changes here. Many experts agree, if the U.S. got a do-over, it’d be much better to go with one federal system than 53 separate ones — so we should probably do that. Among other things, that would stop states from being able to slash their programmes in the name of being pro-business and engaging in a race to the bottom on taxes.

“But, if we are not going to federalise – and at the moment, it seems like we’re not – Congress should at the very least be setting a basic standard for unemployment benefits that states cannot drop below. All of which is really just a long way of saying that we need to take all of the energy that we have been pouring in to making sure that people who don’t deserve payments don’t get them, and put at least as much energy into making sure that people who really need them, do.”

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