Unemployment benefits are available to workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own, as determined by state law. Workers who were laid off qualify, while those who quit their jobs or are just entering the labor force generally do not qualify. UI recipients also must be actively seeking new jobs. Some state UI programs cover part-time workers (those who work less than 35 hours per week).
UI recipients must have a minimum level of prior earnings or time worked, as determined by states. To determine if someone has sufficient wages to claim UI, states look at his or her wages from the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters. That means that the worker’s most recent wages are not counted, which can keep some low-wage and part-time workers from being eligible. Many states have adopted an alternate base period that allows workers to count their most recent earnings.
Amount: UI benefits, which are paid weekly, are generally 50 to 55 percent of past wages, up to a maximum amount. The percentage of benefits replaced varies widely across states. Weekly benefits have averaged about $300 in recent years.
Duration: The regular UI program provides up to 26 weeks of benefits during a 12-month period, in most states. Unemployed workers average 15 to 18 weeks of benefits in most years, but state averages vary and depend on their specific statutes and labor market conditions.
Supplemental benefits: During recessions, extended and emergency UI benefits are targeted to the long-term unemployed, who have exhausted their 26 weeks of regular UI. These supplemental benefits are activated in states when their unemployment rates top designated thresholds. The Federal-State Extended Benefit program (EB) extends benefits for up to 13 or 20 weeks and is financed through a 50-50 state-federal match. In all recessions since 1958, the federal government has also financed an emergency extended benefits program. The most recent Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program has paid emergency benefits from July 2008 through 2012. Between November 2009 and mid-2012, most states offered up to 99 weeks of UI benefits through a combination of regular UI (26 weeks), extended benefits (20 weeks of EB), and emergency benefits (53 weeks of EUC).
General Rules for Unemployment Insurance, July 2012
Sources: For alternate base periods, maximum weekly benefit amounts, and duration: U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. “Significant Provisions of State Unemployment Insurance Laws Effective July 2012.” For part-time provision information: U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. “Comparison of State Unemployment Laws.” The part-time provisions are state policies as of January 2012.