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Jan-23-2009 07:26printcomments

Not Your Grandfather's Workforce, but It's Still His Unemployment Insurance System

Just as you don't drive your grandfather's Oldsmobile, Oregonians shouldn't be stuck with their grandfathers' unemployment insurance system.

Oregon Employment Division sign photo by Tim King

(SILVERTON, Ore.) - Let's say you often bike to work and your Oldsmobile stays in the garage half the work week. On a day when you drive, you get into an accident. Although you dutifully pay insurance every month, your claim gets denied. "Sorry," your insurer says, "you don't drive enough."

It's crazy, right? But that scenario is not too different from what many laid-off Oregon workers experience when attempting to collect unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.

Oregon's antiquated UI program often excludes part-time and temporary workers whose employers paid into the system on their behalf. Modernizing the program so that it better serves today's workforce is more urgent today, as a severe recession leaves more Oregonians without work.

UI is good for workers, businesses and employers. The temporary wage benefits help keep the families of laid-off workers afloat. Local merchants are better off when unemployed workers continue spending on housing, groceries and other basic needs. And once business conditions improve, it helps employers call back experienced workers they need.

To be more effective, however, the system must be updated to reflect changes in the workforce. Established in 1935, UI was designed when the labor force mostly consisted of male breadwinners who worked full time. Today's workplace looks vastly different, with more women, part-time and temporary workers.

Currently, laid-off part-time workers can collect unemployment benefits only if they are willing to accept full-time work. For many, full-time work is not an option --if they are balancing work with caretaking responsibilities, for example.

Part-time workers are a group that is too big to leave out. One in four Oregon workers labors part time, and those workers' employers pay into the system on their behalf, just as they do for full-time workers.

UI rules also disregard up to six months of recent earnings when figuring eligibility. Therefore, Oregonians who work intermittently or have recently returned to work after a period of unemployment or caretaking duties may have difficulty qualifying.

These and other UI rules shrink the pool of workers covered. Today, only about half of unemployed Oregonians collect UI benefits.

That's bad news for the 46,700 Oregonians who have lost their job since February of 2008, when the downturn began. According to the latest data from the Oregon Employment Department, state unemployment stands at 9 percent, its highest level since April 1985.

Now is a good time for Oregon to upgrade its UI system, not only because of rising unemployment but also to take advantage of funding that may come out of Washington, D.C. Congress is considering an economic stimulus measure that would offer an incentive for states to modernize their UI programs. By modernizing, Oregon would get about $91 million from the feds, according to the National Employment Law Project.

To qualify for the federal funding, however, Oregon would need to change its UI eligibility criteria to allow workers to count more of their recent work experience. Twenty other states and the District of the Columbia already have enacted this improvement, which helps workers who recently entered the work force or who work intermittently to qualify for unemployment benefits. Most of those who would benefit are low-wage workers.

Oregon can improve UI further. It can eliminate barriers for part-time workers, allow workers to get their benefits immediately rather than having to wait a week for their first check, boost the benefits for workers who have children to support, and permit low-wage workers to complete a job training program while they collect unemployment benefits. Other states have taken those steps, and so should Oregon.

Just as you don't drive your grandfather's Oldsmobile, Oregonians shouldn't be stuck with their grandfathers' unemployment insurance system. The time to bring Oregon's UI system to the 21st century is now.


Joy Margheim is a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy. She can be reached at

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ChrisJones February 2, 2009 2:56 am (Pacific time)

I agree with OBOY. The more highly regulated and anti-freemarket oregon is going to be is the higher it's unemployment will rise accordingly. No real entrepreneur in their right mind would want to start here in this ridiculous communist like environment without a hefty handout stolen from the taxpayers.

Henry Ruark January 27, 2009 11:24 am (Pacific time)

JW: Thanks much for that civil, open, comprehensive and very honest comment, from which I learn much. Fundamentally, sir, we much closer than might appear here, and for many similar situations, including family and past history. Re business, agree closely re major problems, but miss clear understanding many persons now seek life satisfactions via choice of work other than pursuit of profit, demanded of all business enterprises. That choic should NOT,but most times DOES, erect barrier over which few can climb, and doth create what appears to be bad distortion, sometimes perversion, which is curable only by extended, open, honest --very democratic !!-- dialog. Thank you, truly, for the guts it took for this one, and I assure you of continuing best wishes with entrepreneurial sptrit demonstrating how your part of world helps create what allows our part of same now-tattered structure to work for us, too. It takes all of us, cooperatively speaking, to continue our greatly meaningful experiment in how to build a real democracy.

JW January 26, 2009 11:57 am (Pacific time)

Henry Ruark thanks for the questions. My family started in both cattle ranching and agriculture in the 1880's just outside of Enterprise Oregon. As a kid bucking hay I had the chance to get to know the late actor Walter Brennan who had a ranch in Joseph. My family bailed out of ranching after over 90 years because of absolutely ridiculous land use regs out of DC (BLM grrazing situation). I still have many family members involved in agriculture throughout Oregon and Washington. Our family has gotten quite large so we seem to have family members involved in a multitude of different enterprises, including the medical, legal and teaching professions. I have had a number of businesses and have had a couple that failed because frankly I thought I knew everything (please note that Thomas Edison failed over 4,000 times, but he never quit! Quitting is becoming more commonplace), but found out quickly that the business world can be a no-nonsense place if you don't have your head into it. By the time I turned 25 things started to go more smoothly for me, and now after 30 years of limited expansion I sold my business last summer. The buyer went bankrupt last november. I bought the business back at the price he paid me. I now will simply hold on to the land until I can get a new zoning designation. A lot of people lost some excellent family wage jobs because of land use restrictions that just don't make sense. So many policy makers out there (all over the country) who just don't understand the real world. Maybe we in the "red" areas are a specific target for them. The day may come when most of our food is imported. Then if you think imported energy is a problem, wait until the goverment controls your food supply and not the free market. I find that many people talk a good game about understanding running a business, but generally it's nothing more than talk. They are easy to spot.

Henry Ruark January 25, 2009 7:40 pm (Pacific time)

JW,OhBoy: Still see nothing here except your own personal evaluations, which from non-ID other than synonym means very little. Are either one of you economically trained ?Any experience other than small business, probably ranch agricultural base ? What basic education on which to base remedy for economic crisis ? You venture much without any backing, and defy,deny such as Krugman, and now, too,nearly every so-called "conservative" re what needs doing, both nationally and at state levels. When you win Nobel for efforts and applied methods, as Keynes and Krugman have, then we may put some credence in your pleas. Don't doubt real problems you mention, since son no. 3 has worked helping run huge ranch near Arlington for more than 20 years, and is extremely vocal re situations, too. Except with detailed stuff, other than b-button massage. He does documented papers for some of same targets causing you such pernicious fits. Unconstructive criticism without rational, reasonable further information when challenge laid on you gains nothing for anyone. With Internet access, you surely can do better than rant,rave, unravel tangled threads leaving allatheknots. Speak up, cite your data if any, send links to check and evaluate by readership. That way "dissent" becomes rational citizen mutual action open to support OR not from others, which is what son works at. He happens to have been Oregon Senator chief of staff before deciding he wanted to become rancher in E. Oregon. FYI I visit intermittently, meet and talk with others from there whenever possible. Aallathat simple good faith use of honest, open, democratic channel provided at cost of your plugged nickel by Tim/Bon, which you seem to abuse by p/h/deeper rants. Cool off, calm down, put your stuff into shape, document points, and we happy to have your participation, surely easier on Tim's patience, too. When you open with attack on content and personnel here, it ain't exactly smartest way to win any positive attention. Or have you finally noticed ?

JW January 25, 2009 12:32 pm (Pacific time)

OHBOY. Well said. My family has had properties in Wallowa and Harney county's for over 120 years. Washington DC nor the legislature in Salem have any idea what's going on in most of eastern Oregon outside of the resort areas they go to. They simply cherry-pick the ideas that sustain their short-sightedness and run with them. I see little change coming from them, so hang in there. I believe the pendulum will swing back in a few more years. The voters are about to get well educated in the immediate future and then we can get the new crew to stop the insane land use laws that are currently in effect.

Henry Ruark January 25, 2009 9:08 am (Pacific time)

OhBoy: Simple answer to each and every one of your probing questions is: YES --ever since 8th grade first-venture. Re rest of rant, yr statements make YOU seem as spokesman for whole group. Must ask WHO and WHAT-group elected YOU ? From whence (other than b/button massage) cometh your rapidly wilder, more radical, some ridiculous, charges vs state elected officials ? Have YOU run in opposition, for any office, any level ? Defeated for any ? WON any, even such community service as school board or city council ? I.e., what other than feeling can you demonstrate here, with factual, checkable reference as is our "see with own eyes" system ? Do you require that on your own blog ? WHY rant here with that channel OPEN, or is it OPEN to others ? Don't bother now with ID for direct; your demonstrations here deny any possibility of factual impacts penetrating that barrier you have built.

OhBOY! January 24, 2009 8:49 pm (Pacific time)

Henry, my representatives, and those which represent the majority of Oregon's counties have, indeed, labored mightily to try to effect reasoned change, but have never succeeded. Instead, it slides backwards. So, have YOU ever been in business? Have YOU ever hired employees? Have YOU taken out your life savings and risked it on a venture? You know, the kind that employs people and creates REAL JOBS??? I'll bet not. Rural Oregon is sustained SOLELY by small business, and every last one of them will echo my sentiments on just how insanely stupid our laws and regulatory climate and tax system have become. We have and will continue to elect representatives which convey exactly what needs to be done, and it means nothing to our legislature who cares not the slightest about the people. Oregon's unemployment rate is about to blast upwards dramatically, and is anyone in power in Salem talking about doing anything except finding more ways to rape the budget of the taxpayers? Nope. Not a word about tax and regulatory relief that is needed to encourage economic redevelopment and growth. Instead, people like you are still repeating the same stupid nonsense that got us where we are, and has absolutely NO value whatsoever when it comes to positive outcomes.

Henry Ruark January 24, 2009 5:30 pm (Pacific time)

OhBoy: Are you within reach of your heart pills ? That shill-shot usually produces either heat or silence, but with you it is wild, radical, unrealistic, unthinking, insensitive and antidemocratic. Legislature and those you name are all elected, I do believe, whether or not you happen to agree with them OR their policies. IF you feel so strongly, why NOT run for election to prove up what you claim re how real Oregonians feel about the real Oregon ? IF you are correct re "public opinion" rather than simple b-button massage response, you might even make it to election --and then you could work for what you "feel" is Right.... OR did you try that already and get kicked out at the voting booth ?? THAT might explain the intensity subbing for cogitation and reason.

OhBOY! January 24, 2009 4:40 pm (Pacific time)

Oh, I'm a "paid shill"??? Is that the best you can dream up to defend the absolute idiocy that continues to flood out of Salem like a Tsunami of economic death? There's a reason we have had absolutely HORRIBLE economic statistics for decades, and it's not because businessmen like myself are against the common good. It's because what has come from Salem for the last 30 years has been little but radicalism and wanton vengeance against the people of the state. "Legislators have common sense"???? It is not possible for that staement to be less truthful. I have been a small businessman in various forms for two decades, and all that has happened is that things get worse and worse. Myriad regulations that make absolutely NO sense at all, political favoritism, a tax system from hell and getting worse, our land use laws dictated by radical ideologues in Salem, environmentalism so stupid and mindlessly idiotic that not even good things can happen, labor laws so assinine it is mindboggling, and the list goes on and on and on. Testimony to the legislature? To what end? They're not renouncing their radical ideology, which is what has created all this insanity in the first place. Where's our lumber industry in Enterprise, LaGrande, Prineville and John Day? Why is there no mining left in mineral rich Oregon? Oregon has 3 whole counties with less than 2000 people in them, yet, all three of those counties have a shortage of buildable land...Why? PURE INSANITY FROM SALEM, that's why. Roberts, Kitzhaber, Kulongoski, and their puppet legislatures have done nothing but continue down the road of radicalism for decades, in spite of the objections of the people who are harmed by it all. They are not listening. They do not care. They continue to act in wholesale animosity and malevolence. And just like you, call us "tribalists", "stupid", "rednecks", "irrelevant" and whatever other insults they can dream up. Why did the state do nothing to help out in Klamath Falls? Instead, the state aided and abetted the feds in destroying the people's lives. And you probably applauded, though you've probably no knowledge nor understanding of reality there. Malign? I can't malign. I can't even find accurate words to describe just how bad, overbearing, and malevolent our state government has been against the people of the state.

Henry Ruark January 24, 2009 7:51 am (Pacific time)

Oh, Boy: From previous posts we already know your sneaky character when in maligning mood. Here you couple whole slew of allegations with unprincipled charges and NO details. Report makes clear what it covers while you simply stir smearpot with wild further allegations, thus riding on public attention as if it were stupid mule. I can assure you it ain't, as Nov. 4 proved. Legislators have common sense albeit often entrapped within system. What's needed is the rational, reasonable approach the Founders intended and gave us initiated in Constitution and their other works. What states CAN do is clearly spelled out in our system. They do not always DO all possible but they damned well try, as I know from experience at both national and state level. From what experience do you speak, sir ? For whose purposes ? Surely not for the commonweal... Yours merely blows on sparks for building proper heat via malign misinformation with no substance appended. With ID to Editor you can be set up for appearance at some Legislative hearings, if you have anything but hot air, since what you charge is not only offensive but in some respects illegal, demanding Legislative action vs its own members. SO speak up, bring pertinent documentation, and we will be glad to arrange for rapid hearing with Leg. contacts. That's huge story we happy to cover for all concerned, if you can show any reasons for what you have now charged publicly. Yours has appearance of total overstatement techniques used by many shills, paid for its production, as I have reason to recognize. That's one old tool for derailing interest and attention in actual action on painful problems.

OhBOY! January 23, 2009 7:46 pm (Pacific time)

Where's our legislature? Busy bankrupting employers, preventing job hiring, abusing employers in every way they can think of, and generally just wreaking havoc in every way they can dream up. Oregon is in desperate need of new businesses, profitability from old businesses, deregulation and many other things, but no, our legislature is obsessed with only one thing... Taking as much money as can be taken by force from everyone who has it. And never, EVER being even slightly responsible with any of it.

Henry Ruark January 23, 2009 10:08 am (Pacific time)

To all: Where's our Legislature been during all those years of work force change since '35 ? Sounds as though now-rotting philosophy of "laissez-faire" has been allowed to overcome commonweal needs completely obvious to most surveilling the working scene. Also recalls longtime no-touch on $10 corporate minimum tax, too --SEVENTY YEARS ??? SO what can we expect in THIS session ? Can anyone ring bell of public alarm loud enough to get attention there ? Or does "corporate campaign contribution" continue to cast its consternating impact over all ??

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