At the beginning of October, the national unemployment rate fell to 7.9% following the addition of 500 million new jobs to the US labor market last month. The data indicates that, slowly but surely, the country is recouping the tens of millions of jobs lost since the spring, when the pandemic-driven economic crisis reached its height.
More than 20 million Americans lost their jobs in April alone, which sent unemployment soaring from February’s all-time low — 3.5% — to a staggering 14.7%. Recovery has continued, but the expiration of key federal programs such as supplemental unemployment insurance and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) have led to a gradual slowdown.
Some industries, like hospitality, retail, and health care, saw intermittent growth in September. However, education, government positions, and other sectors continued to struggle with widespread losses.
The absence of funding to revitalize critical economic supports is a key reason why nearly one million Americans continue to seek unemployment payments every week.
How To Claim Unemployment Benefits
If you lose your job, call your state’s unemployment agency right away. If you worked in a state different from the one you reside, contact the agency in the state you were formerly employed. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Unemployment Benefits Finder will help you find information about each state’s benefits program and steps to file in your state.
How Much Will I Receive?
Unemployment benefits are determined on a case-by-case basis. The amount you receive is contingent on several factors, including your previous wages during the last fiscal year and the state you worked.
DOL data from 2019 found that the average recipient gets $378 per week. However, this amount differs from state to state and each recipients’ situation.
What Are Supplemental Unemployment Benefits?
When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, lawmakers included a provision that gave unemployment recipients an additional $600 per week in addition to regular state benefits. The enhanced unemployment program expired over the summer, but some states provide an extra $300 per week. You can learn if your state is offering the additional payments here.
The CARES Act also extended the federal-state unemployment insurance (UI) program to include workers who usually are ineligible for regular UI benefits. Under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA program, independent contractors, gig workers, and other self-employed individuals can receive state UI. However, PUA benefits are only available through the end of December 2020.
How Do I Check My Claim Status?
Suppose you filed for unemployment benefits for the first time and haven’t received your payment. In that case, you can check the status of your claim by contacting the labor department in your state by phone, email, or the agency’s online portal if available. If you are unsure of the best way to reach someone, the DOL Benefits Finder may be able to help.
How Many Weeks Of Unemployment Benefits Can I Receive?
Generally, most states provide up to 26 weeks of state-funded unemployment payments, but some may offer more and others less. Currently, 41 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands all offer Extended Benefits (EB) through the end of 2020.
EB offers up to 13 weeks of unemployment payments during periods of high unemployment. Additionally, some states also provide seven more weeks (up to 20 weeks total) to assist unemployed workers during times like this.
Find out how many weeks of UI your state offers by viewing the Center On Budget And Policy Priorities map here. The model only shows the total number of weeks each state provides regular and EB benefits. It does not show the additional weeks from pandemic assistance programs available until the end of 2020.
States that do not offer the regular 26-week maximum include:
- Massachusetts offers up to 30 weeks, excluding when federal EB is implemented or when unemployment is low. In these cases, recipients can receive UI for a maximum of 26 weeks.
- Montana, which offers up to 28 weeks
- Michigan, which usually offers up to 20 weeks of UI benefits but has raised it to 26 weeks because of the pandemic
- South Carolina, which offers up to 20 weeks
- Missouri, which offers up to 20 weeks
- Arkansas, which offers up to 16 weeks of standard benefits
The states below occasionally modify their weekly UI maximum policies to reflect fluctuations in their unemployment rate:
- Idaho, which offered 26 weeks of UI. However, because the state reported improvements in August’s unemployment, it now provides up to 22 weeks for individuals filing first-time unemployment claims.
- Kansas, which offered up to 16 weeks of UI before the pandemic. Since then, the state has since raised the maximum to 26 weeks until April 2021
- Alabama, which offers a 14-week maximum for first-time applicants. Recipients who enroll in state-approved training programs are eligible for an extra five weeks.
- Georgia, which offered up to 14 weeks of UI but extended the maximum to 26 weeks after the pandemic
- Florida, which offers up to 12 weeks of benefits
- North Carolina, which offers up to 12 weeks of UI
- France, Emily. “Unemployment Benefits in US: How to Claim and Check Weekly Payments.” AS.com, AS En, 19 Oct. 2020, en.as.com/en/2020/10/19/latest_news/1603136276_824044.html.
- “Policy Basics: How Many Weeks of Unemployment Compensation Are Available?” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 19 Oct. 2020, www.cbpp.org/research/economy/policy-basics-how-many-weeks-of-unemployment-compensation-are-available.
- “Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits.” Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits, Employment & Training Administration (ETA) – U.S. Department of Labor, oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/extenben.asp.