Understanding Characteristics of Families Who May Not Be Reached through Tax- and Unemployment-based Economic Relief Policies

As policymakers explore the ongoing need to provide economic relief to families experiencing financial hardship and food insecurity due to COVID-related economic and work conditions, it is critical that they examine the extent to which existing infrastructures—which will likely be used to provide economic support in the form of cash transfers—are equitable and able to reach those most in need of economic support. Unemployment insurance (UI) is a promising mechanism for reaching those who were laid off or lost their job as a result of the pandemic, but evidence suggests that it may not be equitably distributed. This study will examine the characteristics of families who may not be reached by tax- and UI-based economic relief policies to reveal the extent to which these mechanisms must be coupled with other strategies to economically support all families in the context of a rapid emergency response, in future economic downturns, or in other poverty reduction efforts.

The project will combine data from the Household Pulse Survey with observed variation in state-level UI benefits and structures to examine the following:

  1. Household- and family-level characteristics of families who are disconnected from the tax- and UI-based systems
  2. How patterns associated with disconnection from the tax- and UI-based systems vary by race/ethnicity to better understand whether and how tax- and UI-based policies may not be race- or ethnicity-neutral
  3. The extent to which different state policies may be associated with increased tax system participation and UI receipt, specifically among the subset of families disconnected from these systems, to identify the types of policies that will effectively reach these populations

Our findings will offer insights about the types of companion multi-pronged strategies that state and local policymakers should consider to provide economic support to families missed by tax- and UI-based policies and who are likely to be among those at greatest economic risk.

Project Team

Dana Thomson, PI
Lisa Gennetian, Co-PI
Yiyu Chen
Hannah Barnett
Madeline Carter


Robert Woods Johnson Foundation