Profile America: Unemployment Insurance

Saturday, January 28 — As the Great Depression approached its worst, Wisconsin made the nation’s first governmental direct relief effort for the unemployed. On this date in 1932, it enacted unemployment insurance, soon followed by a half-dozen other states before Social Security Act of 1935 – California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Utah, and Washington — moved all states to adopt such programs by 1937. Wisconsin’s program issued the first unemployment check in the amount of $15 to Neils B. Ruud of Madison, Wisconsin on August 17, 1936.

first_UI check_Wisconsin 1932


Recent tabulations show that states and local governments take in over $80 billion annually from the payroll tax to fund unemployment insurance. But they spend nearly $96 billion in such assistance. States have $256 billion in combined insurance trust funds, but an aggregate deficit of $18 billion for covering unemployment.

Profile America is in its 20th year as a public service of the U.S. Census Bureau.

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