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Unemployment Insurance (UI), established in 1935, is a complex system of 53 state programs that in fiscal year 2004 provided $41.3 billion in temporary cash benefits to 8.8 million eligible workers who had become unemployed through no fault of their own. Given the size of the UI program, its importance in helping workers meet their needs when they are unemployed, and the little information available on what factors lead eligible workers to receive benefits over time, GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent to which an individual worker's characteristics, including past UI benefit receipt, are associated with the likelihood of UI benefit receipt or unemployment duration, and (2) whether an unemployed worker's industry is associated with the likelihood of UI benefit receipt and unemployment duration. Using data from a nationally representative sample of workers born between 1957 and 1964 and spanning the years 1979 through 2002, and information on state UI eligibility rules, GAO used multivariate statistical techniques to identify the key factors associated with UI benefit receipt and unemployment duration. In its comments, the Department of Labor stated that while there are certain qualifications of our findings, the agency applauds our efforts and said that this report adds to our current knowledge of the UI program.

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