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Unemployment benefits: Who gets left out?

Many denied because of 'outdated' state laws.

By Karen Datko Oct 26, 2009 12:14AM

Did you know that many people who've lost their job aren't eligible to collect?


In fact, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich writes at his blog that "most people who lose their job these days don't qualify for any unemployment benefits at all."


And, we'll add, it's often low-wage and female workers who get left out.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund reports: "Under current law only an average of 37% of unemployed workers actually collect benefits at all, with low-wage, part-time, and female workers particularly harmed by outdated state eligibility rules."


Who can collect is determined state by state, and is often based on laws written in the days when the husband was the breadwinner, and worked one steady job until he retired.


Reich writes at another blog, "Even though those realities have changed, the rules haven't. In most states, you're eligible for unemployment insurance only if you've lost a full-time job that you've had for quite a while. This leaves out just about everyone who's lost one or more part-time jobs. And also excludes any full-time worker who had been at the job less than a year before they got canned."


The Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act, passed by the U.S. House, would address some of these issues.


Whether or not it becomes law, those who lose their jobs should find out immediately if they qualify for benefits. Even if you were part time, you might be eligible in your state.


Other information from the Center for American Progress:

  • The average worker who qualifies for this safety net gets $293 a week. The lowest maximum benefit is $230, in Mississippi. Nine states have a maximum payment in excess of $500 a week.
  • In June, 2008, 45.5% of mortgage delinquencies reported by Freddie Mac were due to unemployment or lost income.
  • During the current economic downturn, 22.3% of unemployed workers -- 2.26 million people -- have been searching for work for more than six months.

On the other side of the coin, the conservative Heritage Foundation says extending unemployment benefits prolongs the time that people are out of work because they feel less pressure to find a new job.


Published Nov. 25, 2008

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