At the end of May 2019, the national unemployment rate was 3.6%. The last time the rate was that low was 50 years ago, when Richard Nixon was president and “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies was the top Billboard hit of the year. A low unemployment rate is good news for employees and those looking for work, especially in graduation season. But hidden in the statistics is a more troubling trend: Of those who are unemployed, fewer are receiving unemployment benefits.
States Are Making It Harder to Get Unemployment Benefits
Some of these changes to state unemployment benefits include:
- cutting the duration of benefits to fewer than 26 weeks (which used to be the national standard)
- making it more difficult to keep getting benefits after initially qualifying, through weekly “continuing eligibility” requirements, especially searching for a new job, and
- increasing the amount a worker must have earned while employed to qualify for benefits.
In states that have made changes like these since the Great Recession, recipiency rates have fallen significantly; more generous states show rising recipiency rates in the same period.
The report points out that these changes don’t just affect workers; they could affect our economy’s ability to weather another recession. Unemployment benefits provide a much-needed safety net to workers without jobs, and family members dependent on their income. By putting money into the hands of those who must spend it, these benefits also act as an economic stimulus. With fewer workers eligible for lower benefits, the report warns, the unemployment system may not be as powerful a measure to fight recessions (or soften their blow) in the future.
To learn more about qualifying for unemployment benefits in your state, see Legal Consumer’s unemployment law learning center.