A job loss can be financially devastating for many families. Fortunately, all states provide unemployment benefits that can help keep you afloat until you find another job. But how much will you get? In most states, the amount of your benefits depends on how much you made at your last job, how many dependents you have, and the state maximums and minimums on unemployment compensation. (To learn about the eligibility requirements for collecting unemployment, see Overview of Unemployment Compensation.)
What is the Base Period?
Nearly all states look at your wages during a 12-month “base period” to determine the amount of your benefits. State unemployment agencies usually standardize the base period by using calendar quarters, which are 3-month periods, usually January through March, April through June, July through September, and October through December. In most states, your base period is the first four out of five quarters before your benefits begin. For example, if you file your employment claim on January 1, 2017, your base period will be October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016. In other words, the most recent quarter that you worked will not be counted in your base period.
How Much Will I Get in Weekly Benefits?
Each state has its own method of calculating weekly unemployment benefits. However, they generally fall into a few different categories:
- In some states, you will receive a certain percentage of your average weekly wage during the base period. For example, in Ohio, the benefit is 50% of your average weekly wage. To calculate your average weekly wage, add up all of your wages in your base period and divide by 52.
- In other states, such as California and New York, you calculate your benefit amount by taking your earnings in the highest-paid quarter of the base period and dividing by 26.
- The remaining states use different formulas. For example, in Michigan, your benefit is 4.1% of what you earned in the highest-paid quarter of the base period.
Most states also have minimums and maximums for benefit amounts, which generally range between $300 and $800 per week. For example, the maximum in Massachusetts is on the higher end of the scale: $742 per week (as of October 2016).
In some states, workers can receive a higher weekly benefit if they have dependents. For example, in Ohio, the weekly maximum is higher depending on the number of dependents a worker has. In Massachusetts, workers can receive an additional $25 each week per dependent. Dependents are usually limited to those who rely on you for financial support, including:
- unemployed spouses (or spouses who make significantly less than the employee)
- children under 18
- children over 18 who can’t work because of a disability, and
- children between 18 and 25 who are attending college.
Unemployment benefits are not usually taxed by the state, but you do have to pay federal taxes on them. You can ask your state unemployment agency to deduct 10% of your benefits for federal taxes.
How Long Will I Receive Benefits?
The duration of your benefits depends on your state, but typically will not be longer than 26 weeks. In Ohio, for example, unemployment benefits are limited to 20 to 26 weeks. In California, benefits can last between 12 to 26 weeks depending on your earnings during the base period. In New York, your benefits are limited to 26 times your full weekly rate.
To start receiving unemployment, you will need to file a claim with your state's unemployment agency. Learn more about this process in How to File an Unemployment Claim.