Tidbits and beignets: Unemployment benefits vary (a lot!) across the nation

By Chad Pearson, Employment Security Department Communications Office

Beignets and jazz are traditional in Louisiana culture, but if you want to overdose on either of them and you’re receiving unemployment benefits, you’d be better off buying them in Boston than in New Orleans. That’s because Massachusetts provides up to four times the amount of weekly benefits than Louisiana.

dataThose who like to nerd out with lots of statistics and information might enjoy the newest comparison report of unemployment agencies released by the U.S. Department of Labor this week. In all, the report compares unemployment data from 53 agencies from all the states, Washington, D.C., the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. I was surprised at how differently each agency handles unemployment benefits.

  • Tidbit 1: If you are going to be unemployed, hope that you worked in the northeast part of the U.S.

    Massachusetts weekly benefits are almost five times larger than Louisiana’s: $1,047 vs. $284, and the two states represent the highest and lowest benefits in the country. In Washington, the weekly benefit maximum in 2014 was $637. (Currently it’s $664.)

  • Tidbit 2: Short-time compensation programs, such as Washington’s Shared Work Program, can be used only sparingly in some states.

    Wisconsin allows employers to use the program only for six months in any five-year period. This makes Wisconsin the most difficult state in which to use program if an employer has an extended layoff. Some states, including Washington, have no restrictions on how often it is used.

  • Tidbit 3: Federal unemployment benefits were extended for the longest time ever during the Great Recession.
    Unemployment compensation was 100 percent federally financed for a record 67 months ending in January 2014 — almost twice as long as the previous record of 36 months ending in 1978.

    Plus, it surprised me that since the inception of the Special Federal Extension program in 1958, now named Emergency Unemployment Compensation, funds have been available more than a third of the years between 1958 and 2015.

Since all the agencies that administer unemployment insurance programs are independent and subject to changes by local lawmakers, they vary hugely across America. Read the report to see how Washington is helping the unemployed and what it’s like to be out of work in the other parts of the nation.

chad-pearsonAuthor Chad Pearson is the Shared Work marketing manager in the Communications Office.