John Oliver examines the broken unemployment system

John Oliver (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Bob Woodruff Foundation)
John Oliver (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Bob Woodruff Foundation) /

The novel coronavirus pandemic led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and applying for unemployment benefits. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver explained how this surge exposed flaws in a system that is in some ways designed to restrict access to necessary benefits.

Unemployment during the pandemic has caused increased rates of food insecurity, poverty, and other alarming issues as some families struggle to stay afloat. Government assistance at the federal and state levels has been a major help for many Americans yet not everyone has been able to access the benefits they need.

Last Week Tonight has explored this issue before. Last season, John Oliver profiled the sometimes tedious process required to not only apply for benefits but to start receiving them.

Oliver was back on the story Sunday night. The Last Week Tonight host explained the flaws in the unemployment system and how some obstacles to benefits are by design.

John Oliver looks at how unemployment varies across the country

It is not a shock to hear John Oliver say that states have their own unemployment systems. But what is surprising is to find out how big the disparity can be when it comes to the benefits available in certain states. Oliver jokes that “will this state let me starve?” is a legitimate question to ask before moving anywhere.

Oliver drills down even more and exposes how unemployment restrictions on gig and contract workers disproportionately affect Black workers. He explains how this can be traced back to unemployment’s inception in the 1930s when agricultural and domestic workers were purposely excluded from receiving benefits. The result was 65% of Black workers being left without coverage from the program.

Example after example is presented about how specific states slashed unemployment benefits, installed measures to restrict access, and falsely accused people of committing fraud. Oliver explains how, compounded together, these create a very flawed system.

John Oliver offers some ideas on how to fix unemployment

The legacy of unjust and unequal policies has become a common theme on Last Week Tonight. Stories on jury duty, incarceration, voting, and more have all exposed how minorities are disproportionately impacted. Unemployment is just Oliver’s latest example.

Oliver argues that there is no denying that the unemployment system is a broken one. The pandemic has made that even more obvious especially as more people are relying on it to get by.

As always, Oliver doesn’t just bring up a problem without outlining some possible remedies. Here, he suggests more funding for states to upgrade their systems and removing roadblocks that keep people from accessing benefits. But the biggest way to make things better would be to install one universal federal system, says Oliver.

Oliver is banking on federalization happening anytime soon. However, the late night host is hoping that Congress can at least establish some standards that states won’t undercut when it comes time to help those who truly need it.

Related Story. John Oliver calls for an end to police raids. light

What did you think of this week’s main story from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.