Economic snapshot | Jobs and Unemployment

Many jobless can not collect unemployment benefits

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By Andrea Orr

(Updated to reflect most recent data)
Millions of the nation’s unemployed are not collecting unemployment benefits and are not eligible to do so under the laws in their state. Despite historically high unemployment, and record levels of long-term unemployment, only 67% of the unemployed workers in the U.S. were collecting unemployment insurance in the fourth quarter of 2009, the most recent quarter for which data are available from the Department of Labor. That “recipiency rate” includes workers receiving benefits under all of the extensions of emergency unemployment insurance that have been passed during the recession. When the recipiency rate is calculated based solely on the standard 26 weeks of unemployment, it drops to 35%: In other words, without the emergency extensions that have been passed, fewer than half of the country’s unemployed would be collecting unemployment. This unemployment insurance “recipiency rate” varies significantly by state. The Map shows the portion of unemployed workers in each state who were receiving benefits in the most recent quarter.

There are multiple reasons an unemployed worker may not receive unemployment insurance. People  entering the labor market for the first time or after a long absence from the workforce do not qualify because no employer has paid sufficient premiums to qualify them for insurance.  Many state laws also make it difficult for part-time workers to collect benefits, a restriction that impacts women and low-income workers disproportionately. In addition, because of laws that date back to a time of paper records that took time to assemble, many states exclude a worker’s most recent wages when  calculating benefits. Workers who were forced to leave their jobs because of medical reasons or lack of childcare, also do not typically qualify to collect unemployment. Some states disqualify seasonal workers, and all states disqualify workers who quit or are fired for misconduct.  Finally, some workers mistakenly assume that they do not qualify for benefits, and never apply.


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