Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles On April 8th, 2020, a few hundred people in Florida broke the state's stay-at-home order to go wait in this line. Hundreds of thousands of people had lost their jobs, and applied for unemployment benefits through Florida's online system. But the people in this line had come out to get these: paper applications. Because for thousands in Florida, the website wasn't working. "Problems from almost the moment it went online..." "Plagued with site crashes and glitches..." "The process to file is nearly impossible." Americans have lost their jobs all over the country. But the kind of help they can get depends on what state they live in. That's because the US doesn't really have one unemployment system; it has 53 of them. Each state and territory has their own, and the differences between them are huge. In places like New Jersey and Massachusetts, before the economy crashed, a little more than half of all workers without jobs were collecting unemployment benefits. In Florida, less than 10% of unemployed people were getting them. In places like Florida, the complicated, hard-to-use unemployment system isn't a mistake. It's doing exactly what it was designed to do. Back during the Great Recession, lots of people were out of work. State unemployment systems were in overdrive. In many states, the funds that fed those systems were running out of cash So lots of states, including Florida, raised taxes on businesses. That made lots of business owners unhappy. In the 2010 and 2012 elections, several states elected Republican governors who promised to reverse those tax hikes. "Any tax increase kills jobs." In 2011, when Rick Scott took office, Florida employers paid $319 per worker in unemployment taxes. By 2019, when he left, they were paying $50 per worker. The lowest rate in the country. But that meant Florida's system was underfunded again. So, the new governor and the Republican legislature started finding ways to pay less money to fewer people. They cut weekly payments, and reduced the number of weeks you could collect unemployment if you were laid off. But they also redesigned the system itself. In 2011, Florida governor Rick Scott signed a law that moved the state's entire unemployment application process online. The new system was notoriously difficult to use. "No money, and no answers, because of problems with the state's new $63 million unemployment website." In 2019, Florida's state auditor released a report on the state's unemployment system. It noted that it frequently gave incorrect error messages, and would often prevent the submission of an application entirely. Honestly, I'm an unemployment insurance expert, and some of the screenshots I've been seeing don't make any sense to me. I talked to Michele Evermore, an unemployment lawyer and researcher. It's clear that there is a very intentional movement to make benefits difficult to access, just by making the computer system difficult. First, Florida's unemployment application itself is extremely difficult to complete. Think about the last form you filled out online. You probably started at the top with some basic identifying information, then filled in more boxes as you scrolled down. But to submit a claim on Florida's unemployment website, you submit just a few bits of information at a time, then click to a new page, and hope it's all being saved. Each time you hit submit, and a new page has to load, that's a new opportunity for the system to crash and kick you out. Next, if you do get through the process… Some Florida politicians have blamed the system's problems on Deloitte, the contractor the state used to help build the new online system back in 2013. But that same year, Deloitte also helped Massachusetts build its online system. Using the same basic framework, Massachusetts has been able to get benefits to a much greater percentage of jobless people than Florida. Everybody's trying to blame the computer, but in reality, it's the politics. It's not the computer's fault. The computer does what you tell it to do. In response to the pandemic, Congress gave states more than a billion dollars to boost unemployment benefits, and made gig workers and freelancers eligible for them. But all workers still have to go through state systems, like Florida's, to get those benefits. At some point in their working lives, 4 out of 5 Americans will need to access safety net programs like unemployment insurance. But these programs benefit that 1 out of 5, too. It keeps money churning in the economy when there's a downturn. For every dollar spent in unemployment insurance benefits, $1.61 was generated in local economic activity. It's increasingly clear that our physical health is linked to that of our neighbors. It turns out, our economic health is, too.