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Unemployment benefits: which states pay more and which less?

The stimulus bill provides extended jobless support for tens of millions, but the total amount that you could receive in unemployment benefits varies across the country.

The stimulus bill provides extended jobless support for tens of millions, but the total amount that you could receive in unemployment benefits varies across the country.

The new stimulus bill signed into law two weeks ago secured an extension to the additional unemployment benefits which will see an extra $300 weekly payment sent to eligible recipients.

However it is thought that around two million people will experience delays in accessing the next round of jobless support as states scramble to integrate the new funding into existing programmes.

Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and unemployment expert at the Century Foundation, explained that the delays will probably only be apparent in some areas of the country:

"We do expect some states to have delays, getting those who ran out of benefits back on and even starting up PUA and PEUC again," Stettner said in a recent interview. "You can't get the $300 without those underlying benefits."

This inequality exposes the stark differences in unemployment benefits provided in different states; a source of support that has been particularly crucial during the pandemic.

Kansas and Massachusetts come out on top in unemployment benefits analysis

To understand how much each respective state’s unemployment provision is really worth to residents, Forbes Advisor has compiled data on the average weekly benefit, benefit length and cost of living index for each state and the District of Columbia.

The cost of living is a fairly standard combination of food, housing, utilities, healthcare and transportation costs that reflects how much residents in each state would need to spend to cover these ‘essentials’.

When compared with the average unemployment benefits entitlement and the length of that support, Forbes found that Kansas has the most generous jobless insurance, followed by North Dakota and Wyoming.

Kansas offers an average weekly benefit of $375 but its comparatively low cost of living puts it ahead of other states. The largest weekly benefit can be found in Massachusetts ($473), which also has a fairly high cost of living.

At the other end of the spectrum Florida was ranked bottom for unemployment benefits, finishing just below Arizona and North Carolina.

Florida residents receive just 12 weeks of unemployment benefits

Another key issue considered in this study is the length of unemployment support that is provided for residents, with Florida again scoring particularly poorly here. Floridians can expect just 12 weeks of $236 payments from the state before their entitlement expires. In comparison Arizona, ranked second-worst in this study, provides 26 weeks of the $236 weekly support.

The four most generous states (Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Texas) all provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, putting them towards the top of that metric too. However they are trumped by fifth-placed Massachusetts who will ensure that residents receive a whopping 30 weeks of weekly $473 payments if they find themselves out of work.

Some states choose to adopt a more flexible system and alter their benefits period as the unemployment rate fluctuates over time. For example Utah can offer anywhere between ten and 26 weeks of jobless support, increasing the length of the support when unemployment is high and jobs are more scarce.


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