If you lose your job, you likely know that you can claim unemployment benefits from your state. And in really bad times (think big recessions, depressions, or even during the Covid-19 pandemic), the Federal government will step in an offer additional benefits.
For those out of work and wondering how much they’ll get in unemployment insurance, we’ve broken the amounts down by state.
Here's what you need to know about unemployment benefits.
What Are Unemployment Benefits?
Unemployment benefits are a type of social safety net designed to help you by providing a minimum income if you lose your job.
How much do most people get for unemployment benefits?
While the benefit amount varies by state, the national average is between $300 and $400 per week.
That's not a lot, but if you really need a little supplemental income while looking for work, it can help be a stop-gap during emergencies. However, it definitely shouldn't be replacing your emergency fund.
It's also important to note that this isn't a totally free benefit. Your employer pays this benefit as a tax - meaning that they are taking that into consideration when paying you. If you're self employed, you're paying 100% of the unemployment benefit tax.
With that being said, you should regard these benefits as extensions of your compensation.
Furthermore, unemployment benefits are taxable income. Since they are designed to be a short-term replacement for your normal income (which is also taxable), these benefits are taxable. If you don't have any money withheld from your unemployment checks, you could owe money when you file your tax return.
Benefit Amount By State
According to Newsweek, the national unemployment average is $300-$400 per week. Some states, such as Massachusetts, pay as high as $1,000 per week. Unemployment insurance doesn’t cover your entire paycheck. It is usually only 45% of what you used to make. Those who work part-time may still be eligible for unemployment but will be paid a lower amount.
The amount you will receive is based on your compensation before you were unemployed. Every state has a slightly different formula. For example, California determines your weekly benefit amount by dividing your earnings for the highest paid quarter of the base period by 26.
Listed below are the minimum and maximum weekly benefits for each state.
District of Columbia
How To File For Unemployment
Contacting your state’s unemployment office is the first step. They can answer all of your questions about eligibility and how much you should expect per week. Eligibility will vary by state. For most states, you need to have paid into the unemployment fund, which means you were an employee rather than an independent contractor or self-employed person. Of course, the government relief package has relaxed unemployment requirements.
How soon you’ll receive your first unemployment check also varies by state. Some states have a short waiting period between the time you file and the time your first check goes out. The wait time is usually one week, and some states will still pay you for that week. That has also been relaxed due to the government relief package.
Careeronestop.org has a list of contact information for each state’s unemployment office.
You should be able to file for unemployment online through your state’s website. Once you are laid off, file your unemployment claim as soon as possible. The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll begin receiving unemployment payments. Plus, some states do have a waiting period - such as two weeks - before you can get your first unemployment check.
If you aren’t sure that you qualify for unemployment or even believe you don’t, it’s still worth checking. With the relaxed rules, you might be surprised. In fact, some states are offering unemployment benefits to gig economy workers and freelancers who may not even have qualified before.
What To Do If You're Still Waiting For Unemployment?
Sadly, the state unemployment systems were not designed to be quick and easy for citizens to receive their unemployment benefits. Plus, some states have a two week waiting period before you can collect any benefits.
But, what can you if you're waiting?
First, make sure you use the online portal for your claim if possible. Most states are very under-staffed to handle calls, so if you don't need to call, don't.
Second, if your claim is denied or your still pending, you should try to call at least a few times. We recommend documenting these calls with date, time, wait time, and more. Hopefully this will resolve it if you're patient enough.
Third, if you're still waiting on benefits, you should contact your state legislature representative. In nearly all states, local representatives and assembly members have personnel on staff that can help escalate issues with state departments (like unemployment). In fact, most state departments have a liaison office that helps with these requests, so your situation will be reviewed by higher level managers.
Other Benefits Right Now
There are a lot of programs right now and benefits that you may be able to take advantage of if you lose your job.
If you have student loans, you might find this guide helpful:
Losing your job is tough - especially when it's due to something that nobody could control. However, there are options for you if you need help.
Make sure that you file for unemployment right away if you lose your job so that you can start seeing your benefits sooner, rather than later.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared toward anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
Editor: Clint Proctor