How much is unemployment and for how long do unemployment benefits last?

How much unemployment is and how long unemployment lasts depends on the state laws where you are employed. Depending on the state, unemployment may only be half your average weekly earnings. Once your unemployment benefit amount has been calculated, your state determines how long unemployment lasts, which is anywhere between 26 and 30 weeks.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Unemployment payments vary depending on which state you live in, but the calculations are relatively simple and you can figure out the amount you will receive yourself. Each state has its own method of determining the unemployment payments an employee will receive, and how long they will last may also vary. A majority of states determine weekly benefits using the base period earning quarters in which wages are highest. This is called the High-Quarter Method. The base period is generally the first four of the last five calendar quarters before your unemployment claim. If your earnings in the base period aren’t enough for you to qualify for unemployment assistance, you may be automatically reconsidered with an alternate base period.

Other states may use a variety of methods from the Annual-Wage Method to the Average-Weekly-Wage Formula. Because the High-Quarter Method is the most common method of computing benefits, you may be able to use this to help you determine your unemployment benefit.

How can I estimate my unemployment benefit amount?

The high-quarter is the period that the wage earner worked closest to a full-time schedule. This is the period in which the previous wages were highest. Divide the amount earned during this quarter by 13, which is the number of weeks in a calendar quarter. The state determines the percentage of that wage that will be replaced. The weekly wage is divided and the weekly benefit is calculated based on the weekly wage. For example, a worker who earned $3,200 during the high quarter made an average weekly wage of $246 per week ($3,200 divided by 13). Depending on the state, the benefit amount may replace one-half of the average weekly earnings. This means the worker’s weekly benefit amount will be $123.

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How long do unemployment benefits last?

Once your unemployment benefit amount has been calculated, your state will determine the maximum duration of benefits, or how long unemployment benefits can be collected. Several states establish uniform durations of 26 weeks of benefits for all workers who meet qualifying-wage requirements, while other states have the flexibility to assign benefits lasting anywhere from 26 to 30 weeks of benefits to unemployed workers. This is usually a monetary cap, which is calculated by multiplying your weekly benefit by 26. This means that if you qualify for partial unemployment, you could benefit for more than 26 weeks.

Nevertheless, you may not qualify for full coverage. Your unemployment coverage could be lower depending on two factors: how much you earned in your base period, and the state’s unemployment rate. In most cases, the number of dependents you have and the average maximum weekly wage will affect the unemployment benefit you are eligible for.

All states require workers to have earned a certain amount of wages, to have worked for a certain period of time, or both, to be eligible to receive Unemployment Insurance Benefits. Fortunately, most workers qualify for benefits based on employment and wages in their state of residence. Individuals working in multiple states may not have adequate employment and wages in a single state, which will reduce the worker’s total weekly benefit amount. Most unemployed workers don’t qualify for UI benefits. UI does not cover people who voluntarily leave their jobs, people looking for their first jobs, and people re-entering the labor force after leaving voluntarily. Self-employed workers, gig workers, undocumented workers, independent contractors and students aren’t eligible to apply for UI benefits.

States are flexible when it comes to determining benefits. Federal requirements are minimal while ensuring that all states provide basic protections for eligible workers. States can choose the level of employer tax, the benefit level and duration of benefits, and the eligibility criteria, such as the extent and duration of prior employment.

Please review the United States Department of Labor, Monetary Entitlement pdf , Table 3-3: Base Period Wage and Employment Requirements for Benefits. The table lists current benefit requirements by state.

Also, make sure to have details of your former employers (up to 24 months of history), personal (SSN, address), and banking information ready when filing the claim or talking to an agent at your state UI office.

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