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Odd Wisconsin Archive

On the Dole for the First Time


On January 28, 1932, Wisconsin passed the nationís first unemployment compensation law. Labor unions had been urging it since 1910, and in 1918 policy analyst John Commons proposed a plan that would have shared the cost equally among workers, employers, and state government. Progressive state senator Henry Huber, however, altered it so that businesses would have absorbed the entire cost, and the proposal was defeated in the legislature in 1921. For the next decade labor and business wrangled over the issue until in 1932, with the Depression increasing in extent and severity, a compromise was worked out. Wisconsin UC legislation was passed that made it voluntary for employers to participate - - but if enough of them failed to do so, compulsory participation would go into effect. That law was passed in Madison on January 28, 1932; here, Gov. Phillip La Follette is shown signing it. Naturally, during a time of rising unemployment and shrinking economy, businesses could not participate in the required numbers, so in 1935 the U.S. government passed enabling legislation that made unemployment compensation along the Wisconsin lines a federal law. Here the first unemployment check in the nation is passed out to Neils Ruud of Madison. Since then, unemployment compensation has been a basic component of the safety net meant to shelter Americans from the suffering caused by economic forces beyond their control.
:: Posted in Curiosities on January 28, 2005
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