What do Prisoners & Millionaires Have in Common?

First, a warm up question: Who takes longer to find work after filing for unemployment compensation, Millionaires or Prisoners? This is actually a trick question because prisoners don’t qualify for unemployment.  Prisoners, by being incarcerated, fail to meet the standard of “ready for work” or “actively looking for work.” Yet, unemployment has been paid to prisoners, sparking a nation-wide crackdown on such fraudulent payments.  Millionaires are another story.  Hey, who isn’t ready or actively looking to be hired as a Millionaire?   How many Millionaires “qualified” for unemployment benefits when the financial markets hit the skids during the recent Great Recession?  Even in the face of separation packages in the millions of dollars, many institutions paid out unemployment benefits to very high wage earners.  Despite the clamor over the unemployment  insurance expenses for these two groups, the slowest legal group of claimants to return to work, and the receivers of the largest proportion of overpayments in the unemployment system constitute a third group; the Average Claimants whose household made under $50,000 per year. The majority of unemployment insurance payments – around 70 percent — go to these households, a figure recently reported by Bloomberg. Here’s a math test: If in any given year there happen to be 1,000,000 Average Claimants  (households earning under $50k) who happen to misfile beneficially and are consequently overpaid by $1,000 each, then how much systemic overpayment is that? That’s right. One billion dollars. Indeed, Department of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2012 overpayments nationally topped $4.8 billion. The waste basket was already full. Royalty-Free Stock Photography by Rubberball The real concern among the state officials and the financial auditors of the national unemployment compensation system is not the obvious legal or apparent losses to Millionaires and Prisoners. Yes, it makes no sense for Prisoners to receive checks, nor is it legal. And such payments need to be stopped.  And yes, we can safely question whether Millionaires really “need” the benefit of unemployment assistance. Prisoners and Millionaires may cost tens of millions of dollars in fraud or overpayment of unemployment compensation claims. However, the real cost concern confronting the system as a whole is how to reduce the overall cost of the Average Claimant’s errors, starting at a billion dollars.