Collecting Unemployment

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A friend called me up this morning. I can’t quite believe this, she said, a tremble to her voice, but I was just laid off. Even worse, during the past five months my husband and I have barely been scraping by, so we’ve used up most of our emergency cash. I never thought it would come to this, but do you think I am eligible for unemployment?

This is a complex question, as both eligibility and benefits differ depending on what state you live in. In Pennsylvania, for instance, 58% of unemployed receive benefits, whereas in Arizona, this number is only 29%. That amounts vary by state should come as no surprise, considering that living expenses are so much higher in some places than others. In Mississippi, for instance, where living expenses are comparatively low, unemployed have to make do with an average of $210 per week, whereas in the more expensive state Massachusetts, average unemployment benefits add up to $384, almost twice as much.

Different states also have different cultures when it comes to handing out the money. Some states will do everything in their power to turn applicants down, while others take a more empathetic approach.

Fortunately, my friend lives in Connecticut, a state with both relatively high average weekly benefits ($311) and a high rate of recipients (45%), so her chances are good. But with the highest number of unemployed in 26 years and many offices managing these benefits short staffed, she may have to wait a while for her first check. I told her to file for her benefits immediately.

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