Critics have derided the federal government for being wasteful when it comes to unemployment benefits, but the reality is that it's much more common for jobless benefits to go unclaimed than to be wasted.
Only half of eligible unemployed Americans during the most recent recession actually collected unemployment benefits, according to a new analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. And over the past 22 years, only one-third of those eligible for jobless benefits collected them on average.
If everyone that qualified for unemployment benefits in 2009 collected them, then the government would have spent $108 billion more on jobless benefits that year: That's roughly 10 times more than the $11 billion that the government overpaid in jobless benefits that year, according to the analysis.
The difference is striking, considering the recent controversy surrounding overpayment of unemployment benefits. The government overpaid about $14 billion in unemployment benefits last year, according to Labor Department data cited by CNNMoney. Some recipients have included prisoners, dead people, retired public workers, and the employed.
In addition, 2,362 millionaires received unemployment benefits in 2009. Though the figure may seem outrageous, it amounted to only 0.02 percent of all unemployment benefit income, according to the Congressional Research Service. Still, Congressional Republicans have seized on the findings to advocate for ending unemployment benefits for millionaires. But unemployment benefits are a form of insurance, and more than nine in ten unemployment benefit recipients in 2009 lived in households with annual incomes of less than $100,000 per year, according to the Congressional Research Service.
(Hat tip: The Wall Street Journal)