Since the spring of 2022, the nation’s unemployment rate seems to be returning to pre-pandemic levels. Although 3.6% is historically low, that small percentage still accounts for nearly 6 million individuals without jobs. People experiencing unemployment are faced with the uncertainty that comes with losing an income source. If you ever find yourself unemployed, knowing what kind of benefits are available to you is important.
At both the federal and state levels, there are programs designed to help people through unemployment whether they plan to return to work. The states created these benefits to supplement lost income if you become unemployed through no fault of your own. However, you must meet state-specific requirements. This guide will help you determine eligibility for unemployment benefits, teach you more about filing, and provide information on additional unemployment resources.
Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?
Unemployed individuals considering benefits must first meet their state’s eligibility requirements. While these may vary from state to state, at least two conditions must be met: 1) you are unemployed through no fault of your own, and 2) you meet your state’s work and wage requirements. Depending on the state, more requirements may exist outside these two. Let’s examine what these statements mean and how to interpret them.
You are unemployed through no fault of your own.
Each state is responsible for determining exactly how “no fault” is defined. Generally speaking, this would cover situations where a worker is being laid off without the intent of replacing them. Individuals who voluntarily quit or are fired for misconduct would be considered “at fault” for their unemployment and consequently ineligible for benefits. Situations that states may view as “no fault” include but are not limited to:
- Company closure
- Position elimination
- End of an assignment
- End of seasonal work
- Lack of available work
You meet your state’s work and wage requirements.
To be considered for unemployment benefits, individuals must have worked an established period before the job loss. This is called a “base period.” Each state will determine the exact length of the base period, but many states use one year as the minimum length of employment required for eligibility. Similarly, individuals must have earned a set amount of wages during the base period to qualify for benefits.
You meet any additional state requirements.
States may ask for more than the above requirements in order to be eligible. For example, certain states require unemployed individuals to register with their local unemployment office to receive benefits. While registered, they must check in periodically and prove that they are looking for work each week they collect benefits. To learn more about state-specific requirements, use the Department of Labor’s online locator tool to find your state’s unemployment insurance office.
If you determine that you’re eligible to receive unemployment benefits, you will undoubtedly have even more questions about the process. Filing an insurance claim can quickly become confusing and complicated, especially when there are formulas and timelines to calculate. Below we’ll discuss the important timing considerations within the filing process and how to receive the maximum benefit.
How long do I have to file for unemployment?
In the event that federal unemployment benefits are available to individuals, as was the case during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are specific dates that must be met in order to be eligible for full benefits. For state unemployment, there are no hard cut-off dates or deadlines attached to filing for benefits. However, just because you can wait to file, it doesn’t mean that you should.
Will I get better benefits if I file for unemployment right away?
Unemployment agencies use a formula to determine the amount of benefits individuals receive. This formula considers the average amount of earnings you made within a specific time period before filing for unemployment. The longer you wait and have gone without wages, the less benefit you are likely to receive. So, yes. You are more likely to receive better benefits if you file as soon as possible.
How long do I have to work to get unemployment?
As mentioned above, the base period will vary from state to state, but most states require individuals to have worked the earliest four quarters of the last five completed quarters before you filed the claim. Depending on special circumstances, states may choose to adjust the base period to accommodate certain cases, sometimes shortening the required time.
How long can I receive unemployment benefits?
Most states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, with some providing more or less. The state that offers the most time is Massachusetts at 30 weeks, and the states that provide the least are Florida and North Carolina at 12 weeks. Some states may determine the amount of weeks an individual is eligible for by using a sliding scale based on their earning history.
Unemployment Resources and Benefits
Whether or not you receive official state unemployment benefits, there are even more resources to help those without work. There’s a good chance unemployed individuals are highly concerned about how to obtain health insurance, legal help, or money to buy food and other essentials. You can still look to the government for help and take advantage of the additional programs and protections in place for people who find themselves unemployed. Below we will discuss insurance, assistance, and legal considerations for unemployed individuals.
Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA).
COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. This law passed in 1985 mandated an insurance program be offered to individuals leaving employment as a means of continuing group health benefits like those provided by their previous employer. COBRA is available to individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily lose their jobs, are transitioning between jobs, experience a major life event, or have their work hours reduced. Learn more about COBRA by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor website.
Be advised, COBRA tends to be rather expensive and many people experience “sticker shock” when they receive a quote for continuation of coverage. There are also time constraints in terms of when you can file for COBRA and how long you have access to the benefit, typically between 18-36 months. However, if you were terminated due to gross misconduct, you will not be eligible for COBRA coverage.
Short-term and long-term disability insurance.
Disability insurance isn’t only for people who work on construction sites and drive vehicles. Chronic disabilities like back pain and arthritis are work-related conditions that are also covered. Both short-term and long-term disability insurance is usually offered through a workplace group plan but can also be purchased individually. If for some reason you become disabled and lose income due to missing work, a small monthly benefit is paid to you while you’re away if the condition is covered by your disability insurance.
It is best to file a claim for short-term disability as soon as you foresee missing more than 7 calendar days of work. When in doubt, file. Click here to learn more about disability insurance.
Workers’ compensation for illness or injury on the job.
All 49 states except Texas require employers to pay for workers’ compensation insurance, a type of coverage that provides benefits for workers who become ill or injured on the job or because of the job. Individual states control workers’ comp, so coverage and requirements will vary. Generally, this insurance helps cover things such as:
- Lost wages
- Medical costs
- Continuing care costs
- Funeral costs
Wrongful termination of employment.
If you’ve been fired or let go seemingly out of the blue, it’s easy to feel wronged or targeted, and maybe you were. According to FindLaw, wrongful termination of employment is when someone is “fired for an illegal reason, which may involve violation of federal anti-discrimination laws or a contractual breach.” Even if your state is considered an “at-will” state (employee can be terminated with or without cause), there are still protections in place for employees. If an employer is taken to court and found guilty of wrongful termination charges, a settlement may be reached, and compensation given to the employee. Contact your state’s labor office if you think you’ve been the victim of wrongful termination.
Welfare, SNAP, or TANF
The government offers additional benefits to individuals who need a little extra help with cash, food expenses, and other services. Let’s take a look at two welfare programs, SNAP and TANF:
- SNAP: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides a supplement of money to be used only toward grocery purchases made at participating retail stores. Eligible individuals usually receive a debit card to make their SNAP purchases. The card is reloaded every month as long as the individual is still eligible and enrolled. Once you apply, you will receive notification of eligibility within 30 days, but you may find out in as few as seven days.
- TANF: The federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program distributes over $16 billion to the nation’s states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories. States then operate programs that distribute monthly cash payments to low-income families and funding services designed to provide other types of assistance and education.
Up-to-Date Unemployment Benefits by State
How to Explain Unemployment on Your Resume
For those ready to make their way back into employment, crafting a compelling resume may feel a little daunting. How are you going to address the gaps in your work history? Is there a way to soften the reality of weeks, months, or years outside of a traditional job? It doesn’t matter if you were away from the workforce because you were parenting at home, taking a sabbatical, or recovering from an injury–it’s hard to know how to approach the job hunt again.
There are resume strategies you can take to avoid unemployment discrimination when a hiring manager reviews your application. Depending on the amount of time you are unemployed and the reasons why, unemployment can be a time to re-skill or learn something new. These new skills should absolutely be included on your resume. It shows initiative, desire to learn, and it can cover some of the gap in time.
You don’t have to hide the fact that you’ve been unemployed, but there are absolutely acceptable ways to present yourself outside of the normal resume structure. We have a few tips that will help you highlight your professional skills and experience to a potential employer by focusing on what you have accomplished and what you have to offer right now.
Focus on your skills.
If you have an impressive or unique skill set, be sure to highlight that fact. Your skills may get rusty after a period of unemployment, but that knowledge and ability are still yours. Even if you haven’t received specialized experience or education, there are ways to showcase what you know how to do in a manner relevant to the new job you’re applying for. Consider placing the “skills” section of your resume in a place that stands out as quick-to-read bullet points for the hiring manager.
Emphasize your training and education.
Be sure to go into detail about diplomas or degrees you’ve earned. You should also make a note of any awards or titles obtained during the course of your academic career. Employers want to know what kind of investment you’ve put into learning. Listing relevant classes or continuing education training is another way to beef up your education section. Use this space to show how and when you acquired some of the skills discussed above.
Mention professional certificates or licenses.
Whether or not the new job you’re applying for requires you to obtain a license or certification, go ahead and list any that you may hold. Those that are relevant to your job should definitely be included but showing employers you’ve taken the necessary steps to become licensed or certified within other fields is another way to showcase the experience you’ve acquired in the recent or distant past.
Include volunteer work and freelance work on your resume.
Another way to highlight your capability is to include volunteer and freelance work, both good sources of experience.
Often volunteer work is performed within a team setting, requiring you to collaborate well with others. It’s even possible to receive managerial experience if you are the leader of a group of volunteers. Volunteering can not only be a method of covering time but may also be a way to build your network and develop skills. Sometimes these experiences lead to job opportunities or career pivots. For example, a parent who stops working in finance and becomes treasurer of the PTA and a member of the event planning committee. This is a way to lend your financial skills in a new way and develop other new skills. When that parent is ready to return to work, they might highlight the event planning and fundraising experience and focus on those types of jobs instead of trying to return to finance.
It may sound corny but volunteering and giving back can be uplifting. You may feel down in the dumps if you lost your job and doing something for free for someone else may not be at the top of your list right away. Still, it may be a good investment of time for your mental health. Hospitals and libraries often have volunteer opportunities but there are other organizations that seek out help, such as thrift stores, organizations that accept donations, soup kitchens, and your child’s school, to name a few. Additionally, volunteermatch.org is a great resource to help you find an opportunity. Lastly, feel free to create your own: offer to mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn or walk their dog. Start a business by putting up a sign at the local coffee shop offering to do odd jobs for a fee.
On the other hand, freelancing provides expertise in working under deadlines and managing time efficiently. There are many skills to gain and speak to through these alternative types of work. There are many ways to apply those skills and showcase them as freelance on a resume. Post on your social media or check out gig work at flexjobs.com or upwork.com. Freelance jobs can be just about anything-from graphic design, virtual assisting, writing and editing, tutoring, photography, and cooking. Think about the things you are good at beyond what you normally do for work, these often are the types of opportunities where you can flourish.