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Unemployed? Your Benefits May Be Smaller than You Think

One of the most frustrating things in life is being unemployed. This is especially true if you want to work, but you are unable to find a job. Even though the unemployment rate is falling [3], many people still find it difficult to land a job.

Many states administer unemployment benefits to help support those who can’t find work. If you don’t have a job, it might be worth it to see if you qualify for unemployment benefits.

Do You Qualify for Unemployment Benefits?

First of all, you need to determine if you are eligible to receive unemployment benefits [4]. If you quit your job for a reason that isn’t considered a “good cause” by your state’s labor department, you won’t qualify. Additionally, being fired can disqualify you from receiving benefits. If you are self-employed, and you lose your main source of income, don’t expect help from the government, either. Only if you are incorporated and have been paying yourself a salary (and been paying for unemployment insurance) do you have the chance to collect unemployment if you fall on hard times during self-employment.

Also, once you are on unemployment, you are expected to try to find a job. In many states, you will be required to meet with a professional who will check up on your efforts to find a job. Turning down too many jobs can be grounds to reduce or eliminate your benefits. And don’t forget that unemployment benefits are taxable [5], so you will have to plan to pay taxes on any assistance you receive.

How Much Can You Get?

Because unemployment is administered by the states, how benefits are determined and distributed is taken care of at that level. You can get information on local options from the U.S. Department of Labor [6]. Most states use a formula to determine how much you are eligible each week, usually based on your salary before you were fired. It’s important to understand that unemployment benefits aren’t designed to replace your income entirely; many people can’t maintain a previous lifestyle on unemployment benefits.

You should also realize that unemployment benefits don’t last indefinitely. At one point, unemployment benefits could last as long as 99 weeks, but that isn’t the case anymore. The federal government provides unemployment help to states, which then administer the programs to residents. (States can also use their own resources for unemployment benefits on top of federal resources.) The amount of federal unemployment aid offered is based on a state’s unemployment rate. There are four levels of federal help, based on the rate offered. Now, for the most part, unemployment benefits top out at 47 weeks.

What To Do When Unemployment Runs Out

So, with unemployment benefits lasting for a shorter period of time (less than a year in some cases), you might run out of benefits before you find a job. So, what do you do when you run out of benefits? Here are some of your options:

Photo: aflcio [9]