Unemployment Insurance Claimant User Research in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry


The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry recognized that their website is the “front door” for claimants to learn about and access their unemployment benefits. As the crush of the pandemic continued, the information on the site had become disorganized with new information added somewhat haphazardly. These challenges and opportunities are commonly found in many states, and Pennsylvania was willing to pause in the midst of a difficult year to examine how they can better serve their claimants.


Before undertaking updates to its unemployment compensation website, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry engaged the USDR Unemployment Insurance team to better understand the claimant user experience and propose design recommendations.

"We truly value our ongoing partnership with U.S. Digital Response. As we work to modernize our unemployment system, we trust USDR to help us understand how all of our stakeholders – from claimants to community organizers – interact with our system, so it can work better for everyone."

Joe Lee, Deputy Secretary of Administration, Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry

The USDR Team

Kerrin McLaughlin

UX Designer and Researcher

Casey Malcolm

Content Strategy

Christopher Mather

Project Lead

Jessie Posilkin

Team Lead

The Work

The USDR team conducted quantitative and qualitative user research in the spring of 2021, including approximately 2,600 website survey responses and 4,500 call center calls, and in-depth interviews with 10 individual claimants. USDR’s final report, Unemployment Claimant Research Findings Report, shares actionable insights from this research and proposes recommendations for how Pennsylvania can use user-centered design to improve its website. The team also developed Plain Language Guidelines and example wireframes.

Practices Used

  • Quantitative research
  • User experience design
  • User interviews
  • User research

The Impact

USDR’s research uncovered that more often than not, users did not find what they were looking for on the Pennsylvania unemployment compensation website, resulting in frustrated claimants and overworked agency staff. A majority of users come to the Pennsylvania website to check their claim status or understand why they did not receive an expected payment. USDR’s research found that a majority of users (in some cases, above 60 percent of users) could not access the information they were seeking on the website. Many of these frustrated and confused claimants then reached out to call centers for help, creating backlogs of inquiries for agency staff to manage.

While USDR’s quantitative research was essential, the team’s qualitative research via 45-minute interviews with a diverse group of claimants proved invaluable. Claimants brought the data to life and increased empathy among USDR researchers and Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry leaders. It is critical to understand a claimant’s emotional context when they are moving through the unemployment compensation process–often they are stressed, overwhelmed, and fearful of making mistakes–in order to design user-focused technology that improves outcomes for all parties.

Many of USDR’s recommendations were implemented immediately, without significant investment.

USDR believes in user-centered design and modular, incremental delivery of innovation. So while some of the report’s recommendations require investment and bringing in new capabilities, many were able to be implemented in near real-time, improving the experience for users today, not months or even years from now following a complete website overhaul. For example, adapting copy to use plain language and address common areas of confusion, re-styling buttons for easier readability and navigation, and improving the FAQ.

Need volunteer assistance?

This secure, open source platform is free and can be reused by multiple government agencies. The USDR team is available, on a pro-bono basis, to help states customize the tool, integrate it with existing state financial reporting systems, and either provide ongoing support or train state technical staff to support these tools going forward.

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