State unemployment websites: 4 out of 5 fail mobile and accessibility tests

This failure is making it difficult for people to apply for unemployment benefits, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

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Nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the digital infrastructure meant to support them is inadequate, according to a new report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). This means that the vast majority of state unemployment websites fail basic mobile and accessibility tests, making it difficult for people to apply for unemployment benefits, according to the ITIF, a non-partisan think tank for science and technology policy.

"Our analysis shows that 86% of these websites fail at least one basic test for mobile page-load speed, mobile friendliness, or accessibility, and at least half crashed under heavy traffic since mid-March," said ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro, who co-authored the report, in a statement. "In fact, more than 54% of the initial unemployment claims filed in the United States during the week ending April 4 were from individuals in states with unemployment websites that had crashed."

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The ITIF reports that one-third of state unemployment websites are not optimized for mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets, "which is a serious problem since roughly 20% of Americans access the internet at home only via a mobile device,'' the foundation said. In addition, many of these websites are not designed to be accessible for people with disabilities, although more than 8% of these individuals are unemployed, and 57% have internet access at home, according to the ITIF.

But while many sites were properly designed for desktop browsers, more than half of the sites failed the ITIF's mobile page-load speed test, the foundation said. In addition, the websites performed poorly using Google's PageSpeed Insights' benchmarks, the ITIF said. The tool considers websites that score above a 90 as fast, between 50 and 90 as moderate, and below 50 as slow.

"Applying these benchmarks, only 16% of the mobile versions of state unemployment websites achieved a fast designation, compared to 48% of desktop versions,'' the ITIF report stated. "States can improve the speed of their sites in several ways, including by compressing images, removing unused plugins, and increasing the cache lifetime of certain assets, which can speed up a page's load time for repeat visits.

Overall, unemployment website crashes have been reported in: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

SEE: Extreme demand causes unemployment systems to crash in several states (TechRepublic)

"State governments should design cloud-based websites and applications that are scalable and can withstand surges in traffic," advised ITIF research analyst Michael McLaughlin, who co-authored the report, in a statement. They should pursue a mobile-first strategy and use a consistent design across websites that meets all accessibility requirements."

McLaughlin added that "Any future stimulus package Congress develops should include funding for states to modernize their websites, as e-government services will be particularly important during future physical distancing and emergencies."

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