Unemployment in Massachusetts: What’s your Problem?

by Dave Atkins on May 9, 2009

in Advice to Unemployed

My posts on unemployment in Massachusetts have drawn commentary here and attention from the media and government. A producer from WBUR called me last week to set up a panel discussion on Friday where I will join an economist and the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, Suzanne Bump to talk about the situation in Massachusetts and respond to listeners who call in with questions. I’ve also been talking with a staffer at that agency, where they have started a blog about jobs and unemployment.

I would like to invite people to post questions here…to relate their experiences…to say things you would like me to think about while I’m on this radio show. I can’t answer specific personal detail questions, but it would help to be able to pass along the kind of real questions and stories that people have.

When I talked to Secretary Bump in person after the Town Hall Meeting, I learned a few things:

  • The reason initial claims are not online is due to the complexity and age of the existing system–which is being overhauled. Now, I still don’t understand why a simple web submission form could be deployed, but I did not get into all the details with her…
  • My situation is not typical. Many people have complicated claims where they did not work for the same employer all year or their employer disputes their eligibility, etc. The claims process is much more complicated for many than it was for me, so it is a mistake to assume everyone’s situation is simple.

Update: As I was writing this post, I noticed a tweet from my friend Rachel Levy, who was also interviewed by WBUR and quoted in a post just now. It does make me pause to ask myself why I am putting myself out there and whether I’m developing an unintentional brand as “celebrity unemployed.” Does this press help or hurt me?

I don’t know. What I do know is that dozens of people have contacted me about my blog posts and have asked me questions I’m not qualified to answer regarding benefits. I do know that I spent a lot of time and frustration on the phone and I believe there are ways to solve these problems. I am excited that my writing about these solutions has drawn the attention of the media and people in our state agencies who have the power and resources to do something about it. So I keep doing it. I feel like there are thousands of people who feel no one is listening to them and if I get the attention of somebody, I should make the most of it.


Robert Padgett April 16, 2009 at 9:29 am

I recommend you focus on dispensing advice to others and not as much on your current situation.

That way the focus of attention becomes your knowledge of a system (MA bureaucracy, for example) or expertise in a skill set (social media, eg) which differentiate you, instead of being out of work and searching for a job, which does not.

You’re doing a great job of self-marketing and PR — just be cognizant that you’re promoting the product (you) in the proper light.

Rob Fitzgibbon April 20, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Hi Dave – great topic. My recent unemployment experience in MA was a bureaucratic fog. Lucky for me I got a job and don’t have to deal with the server crashing on Sunday nights anymore. I just got a notice that I have to take a mandatory career counseling class ~ but I have a job now! As Martin Sheen says to Col. Kurtz, “I don’t see any method..”

CR April 22, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I think their blog is great start in connecting with constituents. However, I think perhaps the employees at the teleclaim center might need a little training in how to handle the influx of claims/deal with the public as well. I am curious what is being done along these lines.

Just today I waited on the phone for 30 minutes, spoke to an agent for a few minutes and then had her say “I need to go” and hang up without even a goodbye or “I’m sorry but..” I was not asking ridiculous questions, I was not complaining about the unemployment process, I was not impolite, I was simply trying to understand a complicated process. The answers to my questions were not online — I spent hours looking.

Furthermore, our conversation could have been much shorter had she not consistently interrupted me and/or felt the need to correct me on every piece of unemployment jargon that I used incorrectly — aka I need to talk to a teleclaims “agent” rather then a “person” at teleclaims.

I understand these folks are stressed, but I don’t think a rude attitude helps anyone. How is the EOLWD’s attitude of really helping/reaching out to constituents filtering down to the day to day employees — or is it not at all.

some guy May 16, 2009 at 7:54 pm


I’m ineligible for Unemployment Insurance here in Massachusetts because I am just getting out of school. I have no ‘base period’ of wages to draw upon. I’m also a white male with no children, so I am not eligible for any other help- state or federal. I am supposed to just die off. There isn’t even temp work available in Boston!

Is Obama going to help this, or will the unemployment rate just continue to be under-represented (only shown as number of those claiming UI benefits)?

I’d love some help, but I’m not holding my breath.

Suddenly Unemployed June 15, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. I have been unemployed for exactly two months now and have started a website to gather articles on unemployment and provide a forum for others to discuss their experiences. Working on this project has helped me work through my own unemployment experience. I would love for you to share your story and join the forum at http://www.suddenlyunemployed.com/forums

visitior September 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm

I am a union electrician and am by no means a newbie to unemployment.i recently excepted a 4 week job from a contractor in my local.upon the fourth week of this job a asked for a layoff to avoid losing my position on our local referal list.the contractor was very understanding and wilfully granted me my request and laid me off.I then re-opened an existing unemployment claim and waited for 4 weeks for my first check,but it never came.I then called ma unemployment and they told me my employer stated that i quit when unemployment contacted them and that my claim is still being processed.i have written proof that proves i was laid off.they told me that now my claim request goes into review by someone at unemployment that will call my previous employer and take a statement and then call me and take a statement.This could take 6 weeks,iv’e already waited 5 weeks for a check and have now gone back to work to confuse matters.will i get my money?has anyone had a similar problem?situation?can you offer any advice?my current job is in the middle of nowhere and i have no cell service,so wondering how will they ever get in touch with me if work beyond there buisness hours and am unable to call themm during there buisness hours.anyone?very frustrating!

we need american jobs here at home December 10, 2009 at 3:29 pm

We are all adults here for the most part and we should all realize by now that when it comes to the government and government employees that they don’t care. They have a semi secure decent paying job and really rotten attitudes and stupids unions to protect their rotten I don’t give a crap about the constituent attitudes and that might seem harsh but for the most part very true. Some of them are nice but the rest should realize that there are no jobs out here in the non government sector and either be nice or give one of us there job. They don’t care that we have rent, that we have bills, or even if we are homeless. They find away to delay our benefits or just not pay us and for the most part we all want to work and cant. If you need help with benefits call the governors office and they are actually nice and will email them and help you out.

Dave Atkins December 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm

I think one thing I learned from my experience working in government is that there is no shortage of good intent among government workers. It’s unfair to blame them personally. At the highest levels of government…people who have so much “power” and authority are daily frustrated by their inability to do all the things they would like to do to make life better for people.

I believe if that personal story could be told authentically and transparently, those in authority could marshall true power to achieve change. But until that day, communication will be managed…and mediocrity and the status quo tolerated as inevitable.

Lee Robinson December 30, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I have been waiting for 7 weeks since
they told me i was eligible for compensation as of n0v.15 2009.
How long should i be waiting?

Daniel Lahey January 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I have enjoyed reading your blog and some of the insights you have about the UI process in Mass.

I have been laid off since May as and Engineer and it is the first time I have ever collected UI in my life. I am veteran who also served time in Afghanistan and Iraq working for the Army as a civilian contractor. The reason why I note these things is because I have always been proud to be a productive member of society, do the right thing, and to contribute to our society.

My experience with unemployment though has left me very bitter and disturbed. When I was laid off I looked for work right away but found there was nothing out there in my field, so I decided to finish the one semester I had left to complete my degree. I used the GI Bill I had earned from my military service to pay for school, I could of got money from the State but felt that would be exploiting the system since the GI Bill covered all my expenses. I was told by an UI agent that I could work part-time to supplement my UI so I started working as a Dishwasher at a Restaurant 30 min from where I live.

In November I found out my Mother who lives in NJ was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. I took a leave of absense from my part time job so I could travel back and forth from here to NJ, finish school, and continue to look for a Full Time Job in my field. I came back 6 weeks later for one week then quit because I was finished school and wanted to fully concentrate on finding a full time position in my field.

I was told by UI that I was disqualified from collecting UI during the period of my LOA and from the point I quit the part time job. I don’t understand why. I was trying to do the right thing when I was laid off by going back to school and making sure I never had to go back on UI again.

What really disturbs me is that if I never had taken that part time job, I would still be collecting. It seems the system is set up to reward people for not working and not trying to better themselves and get off the Government rolls. When I talk to people about it, most suggest that I should of lied to UI.

I called my state senator and asked for help, his staff said they would call UI but I don’t think I will get any relief.

Bottom line is this, I used to defend the idea of Government Programs for those who need help, until I actually had use them and realized that it is designed reward dependency on Government and punish those who are trying to use it to get back on their feet and off the Government Rolls.

Any Suggestions?

Thank You
Dan Lahey

Dave Atkins January 11, 2010 at 3:32 pm

You have the right to request a hearing from DUA. I’m going to post something now with more information on that…

Mark Wilson January 13, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Ok, I feel like I’m in a bureaucratic, Kafka-esque nightmare and am wondering if anyone has any insights.
I owned my own business for over 10 years and closed in August. I paid contributions for myself and for my employees (who are now collecting).

Can anyone tell me if I am eligible to file myself (granted, I only made about 20K in 2009 since cash was tight).

Can I apply for UI? And do I have health insurance assistance avaiable to me?

The big problem every agent has is they don’t know what to say when I say I owned the business. UGH!!!


Donna January 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I was laid off on 6/3/09. That was my Notification Date. My termination date was 6/17/09. When I initially called UI, I was told to call back on 6/18, which I did. Here is the problem, I collected for 7 weeks while also collecting transition pay from my company. This is not the same as severance, which is not a problem in MA if one signs a release of claims to get the severance. Now I am being asked to pay the money back, about 4400+. I can request a hearing and even get a lawyer but does anyone have any advice for me? Should I bother with a lawyer? Obviously I can’t afford one. I never hid the fact that I received transition pay but the simply truth is……I was never asked during my initial interview.

Michele April 26, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I became unemployed on 3/11/10. I called the following week, on my scheduled day, to file a MA unemployment claim. Come mid-April, I had not received anything from unemployment. I called and was told that they had a problem sending them on out 3/19/10 and that I had to wait for the claims adjucator to call me. They resent me a letter that lists my benfit amount. I called a week later because I hadn’t received a call from an adjucator. I go her name and number. I have been calling the Brockton number every day, waiting on hold for more than half an hour and then getting put into her voice mail. I never receive a call back. Any ideas on how I can expedite this? It has been 46 days since our family has had a paycheck. Thanks.

Janice May 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

I found a solution to getting through MA Unemployment!!! I believe everybody has a certin day they may call them and get through.. (My day is Tues)This is based on the last number of your ss number, I have called Friday, Saturday and Monday over and over and never got through once (and if you noticed you have to put in your ss # everytime you call) I called Tuesday and got right through to them. Today I wanted an update because their website was down and of course I couldn’t get through, it was so annoying that I decided to change the last number of my ss # to a number that was higher than mine when the automated system asked for it. Guess what, I got right through!!! I did have to hold for 14 minutes but I got the answers that I wanted and was not told to call again later and hung up on.. Hope this helps

Nikki July 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I am so ready to pull all of my hair out of my head. I filed for unemployment on 6/18/2010 in New Bedford, Mass. My claim was as I thought, a tad bit confusing because I had combined wages in both Maryland and Massachusetts. The woman in New Bedford who took my claim was amazing and I am very thankful for her. Here comes the problem, or what I perceive to be the problem. Not only do I have combined wages working against me, but I left my job as a social worker in Maryland to regrettably move to Arizona to join my husband who is stationed here. I left with job with MILITARY ORDERS but from what I understand it is still considered a quit, fine I get that. But I also know that Mass, on a case by case basis honors spouses who leave their jobs to follow their active duty spouses (I could honestly shoot myself for even moving here but that’s a totally different story) What is really getting under my skin is that I was told that I have to wait to have a claims adjuster call me. Well this adjuster has been on vacation for a few weeks. I called and was told that she would be calling me the next day. Well here it is three days after the fact and no call. I called and was told that they were going to call MAYBE next week…..UNREAL. Now per the norm I have the patience of JOBE but enough is enough. I know that the economy is awful and a lto of people are out of work but in excess of SIX WEEKS???? How long should I wait until I go over her head.?

Eve August 29, 2010 at 4:28 pm

First things first, when you call the unemployment office in Massachusetts never enter your ssn, just wait for the recording to come back on and say”i did not understand your answer, you will now be transferred to a claims specialist”, and voila you are on your way. Second always go to the choice that asks you if you are having a problem #4 or #5, they are the people who will really help you with a problem. Then keep calling the old phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil, applies here too”. Last but not least always ask if there are any other questions you should be asking. Because they are only going to educate you if you ask, and that’s their job, so ask! Don’t ever wait for them to get back to you, you need the money they don’t, they have a job, so bother them until they can’t take it anymore.

Zul August 30, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Nikki… Do you have any phone number of the adjuster???

Emery Haines September 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I have notice within my brief experience with UI, that there are a few things that might, correction, would help expedite the process.

I feel that the process of determination eligibility is backwards in its approach. I think when a claimant puts in a claim a statement from them about there separation should be taken. Then from that process the employer called and a statement taken from them as well. I believe the first step should not be determining monetary eligibility , because it holds no precedence if there not eligible for the reason of separation in the first. This will accomplish few things. 1). Speed up the eligibility of new claims 2). Process disqualification claims earlier 3). Process and determine appeals earlier 4). Help from stagnating eligible and disqualified claim case. I think the process should be more open and clear for a claimant. I feel rearranging the steps and process would benefit UI in wait times and public perception. Also give reasonable wait times/period to the claimants.

Just trying to make ends meet... September 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Does anyone have any first hand experience with working part time while collecting UI? I have called UI several times and have received just as many different answers to my questions. I understand that I can only gross a certain amount weekly as stated on my unemployment statement, but I have talked to and heard through personal conversations that everyone that has worked part time while on UI ended taking a cut in their UI even when they did not exceed the limit set on their UI statement. There are no rules on the website as far as total amount able to earn in a certain period (3mos, 6mos etc) If you work a seasonal or the part time job has a specific end date do you have to reapply for UI at this point? What is ALL the criteria for working part time? I have an opportunity to work a few hours a week part time in my towns school system with for a specific project that will end in several weeks. Thanks, Just trying to make ends meet…

irene November 28, 2010 at 10:10 am

I would like to know why on Sunday November 28th the call in center was totally unavailable – the automated message stated “due to high caller volume” people could not get through. I am wondering if probably on Thanksgiving the automated system was turned off & Friday no one bothered to turn it on again leading to Saturday and Sunday the system being down. Could this have been done on purpose?

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