How Much Does Unemployment Pay?

I was thrilled to see this article on MSN Money, as I have been wondering about this recently.  Here’s what you need to know.

  • Unemployment varies by state; the lowest weekly maximum being $230 (Mississippi), the highest being $628 (Massachusetts).
  • Some states increase payments for families with children.
  • Unemployment benefits are TAXABLE, although not withheld automatically.
  • The new stimulus law exempts the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits from federal taxes.
  • Benefits may be paid a maximum of 26 weeks in most states.  The new stimulus law is extending coverage an additional 20 weeks.

Source: MSN Money via State Labor Department Websites

The maximum benefit I could receive living in California is $1,800 per month.  I currently take home around $2,200 per month after taxes/health care/401k contributions.


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8 Responses to “How Much Does Unemployment Pay?”

  1. Jess Says:

    1800 is pretty good and livable. Hopefully you won’t have to go on unemployment but if you did you know you wont be starving. Although I wonder how they are paying all of this unemployment with the state budget in shambles.

  2. Sukie Says:

    Jess: Unemployment funds originate from the employers and their taxes. Companies pay into the unemployment funds. I’m not sure if there are requirements or if it’s optional.

    Penny: I’ve become very familiar with Oregon’s unemployment. While I am allowed to claim money each week for the next year (exactly one year) I have a set amount of funds available to me. If I claim unemployment every week, I will run out of money in my ‘account’ in 26 weeks. If I want the money to last the full year, when I can renew my benefits, I have to make a claim every two weeks. It’s a comfortable amount if I make the claim every week but it would be increasingly difficult if I only make the claim every two weeks.

    It’s all about rationing. But, I’m still making a claim every week. In 6 months, I’ll just have to figure something else out. Hopefully, I can find a job before that 6 month period.

    Also, when you’re on Unemployment, you are ineligible for food stamps in Oregon. :( But, I guess that’s okay, food stamps are covered by state funds and those are quite tapped out…

  3. nenasadije Says:

    wow. big wake up call for me considering my monthly pay would be cut almost in half if i lost my job and went on unemployment benefits (assuming i’m eligible for the max amount).

    i have a few friends who have gone on unemployment over the last few months. no one really wants to talk about how big or small their check is. and as far as i can see none of them have really cut back in a noticeable way.


    thanks for the info, penny!

  4. linnyt Says:

    the amounts vary so much and it doesn’t seem to correlate with how expensive a state is to live in. i guess it all depends on how much an employer is required to pay.

  5. Drew Says:

    There are different ways to interpret a given scenario, but my words of wisdom for those going on unemployment:

    Don’t get any ‘ol part time job to “hold you over” as they require you to deduct outside earnings from each State check. (Per my experience, circa 2005, CA.)

    There’s actually a field that asks “Did you make ANY MONEY in the last two weeks?” So they even want to know, in theory, if someone paid you $5 to mow their lawn…

    I understand they don’t want people to work a “real job” while simultaneously drawing unemployment, but it almost feels like a penalty for being productive. I ran out and arranged a part-time teaching job at a local university, and those wages “canceled out” the same amount of my unemployment check(s).

    Of course, maybe getting a job at Starbucks for health benefits is a good thing, if only for that reason. But then there’s COBRA, too (which isn’t always the best option, but that’s another story.)

    And getting a part time job does extend your benefits as you simply get a lump sum, doled out every two weeks –so supplemental income helps stretch those funds. So there are ups & downs –just be aware.

    And yes, the taxes thing is horrific. Withhold! Withhold! April is ALWAYS around the corner…(trust me.)

  6. pennyplastic Says:

    Drew, THANK YOU for this input, and for mentioning COBRA. This is something that I left out of my post.

  7. funnyface Says:

    When I was on unemployment, I got $215 per week after taxes, which I opted to have withheld. It was slightly less than half of the salary I made pre-layoff.

    I was not allowed to make ANY money on the side, pretty much, because if I had made $200 per week or more, my unemployment benefits would have been cut off.

    All in all, South Carolina made it pretty easy. I applied online, they called my employer and verified my status, and then I started getting checks. I had to call a hotline once a week to report in and verify that I was still unemployed and not making any money.

    I would not have been able to afford COBRA on those benefits, but I was luckier than most: my husband was still working as a state employee and it was easy to add me to his insurance.

  8. funnyface Says:

    Also: I totally picked up some dog sitting gigs and did not report that as income to the unemployment people.

    And, from looking at my pay stubs, a portion is withheld for unemployment. And like Sukie said, my total available benefit was based on what I/my unemployer had paid in in the 1.5 years I’d been working in this state, and once those funds get depleted, I’d be up a creek.

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