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Monday, February 11, 2013

Receipt of Unemployment Insurance by Higher-Income Unemployed Workers (“Millionaires”)

Donald Hirasuna
Analyst in Labor Policy

The economic recession that began in December 2007 officially ended in June 2009 when the U.S. economy reached a trough, or low-point, in business activity. This recession lasted 18 months, making it the longest of any recession since World War II. To date, there is some growth in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and unemployment rates have fallen—but they remain persistently high in comparison to previous years. Peaking at 10.0% in October 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.8% in December 2012, up from 4.4% in December 2006.

In response to the sustained period of high unemployment rates, Congress has enacted several laws that extend Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. Currently, UI benefits are available for up to 93 weeks, a period longer than during any previous recession. The additional months of benefits are made possible with the temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08) program authorized by the amended Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-252). In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 (P.L. 111-5, as amended) temporarily provides for 100% federal financing of the Extended Benefit (EB) program through December 31, 2013.

The temporary, long-term extensions of UI benefits have occurred at a time when the federal government and the states face serious budget constraints. The debate in Congress over the extension that was authorized in 2012 took place in a climate of ongoing concern over the level of federal budget deficits. It was in this context that a proposal to restrict unemployment benefit receipt based on income emerged. Specifically, the House-passed version of H.R. 3630 (the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act) included a provision that would impose an income tax on unemployment benefits for high-income individuals. Based on a scaled approach, the tax would increase to 100% for a single tax filer with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $1 million (or AGI of $2 million for a married couple filing a joint return). The provision, however, was not included in the final version of the legislation that became P.L. 112-96.

Several other bills introduced in the 112
th Congress would have restricted unemployment benefit receipt based on income (i.e., they would have changed the current requirement to provide unemployment benefits to all workers without income restrictions). S. 1944 would have imposed an income tax on unemployment benefit income for certain high-income tax filers, among other provisions. S. 1931 included the same provisions for a tax on unemployment benefits received by high-income individuals as H.R. 3630. H.R. 235 and S. 310 would have prohibited the use of federal funds to pay UI benefits to certain high-income individuals, among other provisions. While the debate in Congress commonly referred to restricting “millionaires” from receiving UI benefits, the various proposals specified different income thresholds at which the restrictions would have applied (i.e., they varied in how they defined high-income individuals).

To inform the ongoing policy debate, this report provides information relevant to proposals that would restrict the payment of unemployment benefits to individuals with high incomes. Three primary areas that may be of interest to lawmakers are addressed: (1) the current U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) opinion on means-testing UI benefits; (2) the potential number of people who would be affected by such proposals; and (3) policy considerations such as the potential savings associated with such proposals, particularly in terms of federal expenditures. The latter two issues are discussed because a small percentage (approximately 0.02%) of tax filers receiving unemployment benefit income had AGI of $1 million or more in tax year 2009 based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data.

Date of Report: January 23, 2013
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R42643
Price: $29.95

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