If you are newly unemployed, you might be surprised to learn that the amount you’ll receive in unemployment benefits depends not only on your earnings, but also on where you live. In Mississippi, for example, the maximum weekly benefit amount has been stuck at $235 for the last decade. But in Massachusetts, the current maximum is $795 per week—and it increases every year.
Unemployment benefit amounts vary so widely from state to state because of the system’s structure. The unemployment insurance program was created in 1935, as part of the New Deal. Although the program is part of the same law that created the Social Security system, it has a different model. Your Social Security benefits are based solely on your earnings history: Whether you retire in Hawaii or Maine, you’ll receive the same amount. But unemployment is a joint program of the federal and state governments. Although unemployment insurance basically works the same way everywhere, each state makes its own rules about who is eligible, decides how to calculate benefits, and determines maximum benefit amounts.
Some states, like Mississippi, have enacted laws that establish the maximum amount. Until the state legislature agrees to amend the law or pass a new one, the maximum amount doesn’t change. Other states calculate the maximum amount each year, based on state wages or some other benchmark. Some states pay more if you have dependents; others don’t.
After you apply for benefits, your state’s unemployment agency will let you know whether you are eligible. That’s also when you’ll learn exactly how much you will receive.
To find out how your state calculates benefits—and the maximum benefit amount in your state—see How Much Will I Collect in Unemployment Benefits? in Legal Consumer’s unemployment benefits learning center. Other topics in the learning center include who is eligible for benefits in your state and how to apply.