CFED Scorecard

CFED Assets & Opportunity Scorecard

Unemployment Benefits Reports & Graphics Policy Brief

Overview

  • States that Have Adequate Unemployment Benefit Compensation

  • States that Have Expanded Unemployment Insurance Eligibility

With unemployment still well above pre-recession rates, a critical first line of defense continues to be unemployment compensation. Unemployment benefits help families through difficult times while the laid-off worker looks for a new job. However, current unemployment benefit levels have not kept pace with the changing labor force, according to the National Employment Law Project

In addition to the inadequacy of benefit levels, all states require an unemployed worker to have earned a minimum dollar amount to qualify for unemployment insurance. Since this minimum earnings amount is calculated based on the wages a worker has earned over the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters (a period of time known as the “base period”), workers filing for unemployment insurance cannot count the wages they earned during the quarter in which they are filing nor the wages they earned during the most recently completed quarter. The exclusion of recent earnings makes it difficult for low-wage workers, part-time or seasonal workers to have sufficient earnings on their application to meet the minimum requirement to qualify for unemployment benefits. 

What States Can Do

States have the ability to determine unemployment benefit adequacy and eligibility. One effective strategy to ensure unemployment benefit adequacy is to increase the average weekly benefit to at least 50% of the state’s average weekly wage. This level of benefits helps families preserve existing assets and avoid debt while searching for a new job.

To improve eligibility for unemployment insurance, states can change the way the minimum earnings amount is calculated. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress enacted the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act (UIMA), which provides financial incentives for states to adopt an “alternative base period,” which allows workers to count recent earnings when determining their eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Strength of State Policies: Unemployment Benefits

Is the state's average weekly benefit at least 50% of the state's average weekly wage? 1Has the state enacted alternative base period and does the state cover part-time workers? 2
StateAdequate benefit?Percent of average
weekly wage
Expanded eligibility enacted? Expanded eligibility rules
Alabama    26.2%    — 
Alaska    26.2%    Alternative base period 
Arizona    24.9%    — 
Arkansas    40.5%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
California    27.8%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Colorado    37.0%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Connecticut    28.9%    Alternative base period 
Delaware    25.0%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
District of Columbia    20.5%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Florida    28.5%    — 
Georgia    31.3%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Hawaii    53.0%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Idaho    37.5%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Illinois    32.1%    Alternative base period 
Indiana    34.3%    — 
Iowa    43.2%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Kansas 3   43.2%    Part-time worker 
Kentucky    38.2%    — 
Louisiana    24.6%    Part-time worker 
Maine    38.9%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Maryland    33.3%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Massachusetts    34.2%    Alternative base period 
Michigan    33.0%    Alternative base period 
Minnesota    39.3%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Mississippi    28.8%    — 
Missouri    30.0%    — 
Montana    40.3%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Nebraska    36.3%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Nevada    36.9%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
New Hampshire    31.1%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
New Jersey    35.5%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
New Mexico    39.9%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
New York    25.9%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
North Carolina    36.7%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
North Dakota    43.9%    — 
Ohio    37.2%    Alternative base period 
Oklahoma    35.8%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Oregon    36.7%    Alternative base period 
Pennsylvania    38.5%    Part-time worker 
Rhode Island    41.9%    Alternative base period 
South Carolina    33.0%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
South Dakota    39.5%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Tennessee 4   28.6%    — 
Texas    34.6%    — 
Utah    43.3%    Alternative base period 
Vermont    39.9%    Alternative base period, part-time worker 
Virginia    30.5%    Alternative base period 
Washington    38.6%    Alternative base period 
West Virginia    37.4%    Alternative base period 
Wisconsin    34.3%    Alternative base period 
Wyoming    41.7%    Part-time worker 

Notes on the Data

1. U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. Unemployment Insurance Data Summary. 2013.

2. National Employment Law Project. Modernizing Unemployment Insurance: Federal Incentives Pave the Way for State Reform. 2012. CFED thanks Rebecca Dixon of the National Employment Law Project for providing updated 2013 data.

3. Kansas repealed Alternative Base Period in 2013.

4. Tennessee repealed part-time worker coverage and most of Alternative base period in 2013. Alternative base period applies only if the wagees in that quarter have already been used.

What States Have Done

Although there is broad consensus that unemployment insurance benefits should replace 50% of lost weekly earnings over a 6-month period, benefits in almost every state are far below that level. Only Hawaii replaces 50% or higher of lost weekly earnings. 

Many more states have extended unemployment benefit eligibility. Thirty-seven states have enacted alternative base period and 28 states cover part time workers. Twenty-three states and D.C. do both. 

Acknowledgements

CFED thanks Rebecca Dixon from National Employment Law Project for her input and expertise on this policy issue. 

Copyright © 2016 CFED — Corporation for Enterprise Development 1200 G Street, NW Suite 400 Washington, DC 20005 202.408.9788