The Best (and Worst) States to Be Unemployed

June 24, 2014 by 247alexkent

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Late last year, the federal government allowed its emergency unemployment compensation benefits program to expire. This decision has left much of the nation’s long-term unemployed without access to unemployment insurance after their standard eligibility ended. Efforts to revive the program have not been successful so far.

While the nation’s unemployment rate has improved in recent years, dropping to 6.3% in May, the lowest its has been since September 2008, there are still nearly 12 million Americans who are out of work. In some states, the unemployed have to contend with slow job growth, extreme competition, and limited benefits. In other parts of the U.S., the situation is markedly better. Based on Department of Labor data for unemployment insurance benefits and employment statistics, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 best (and worst) states to be unemployed.

Click here to see the best states to be unemployed

Click here to see the worst states to be unemployed

A state’s unemployment rate is one of the strongest indicators of a labor market’s health and how easy or challenging it can be to find work. Indeed, the unemployment rate in all of the best states to be unemployed was below the 6.3% national rate. On the other hand, it was above the national rate in seven of the worst states to be unemployed.

According to Rebecca Dixon, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project (NELP), unemployment is affected by both the supply of capable workers and the demand for labor. “You could have a state where there are lots of openings but people are not qualified, or a state where there are lots of people out of work and very few job openings,” Dixon said.

The unemployed can also benefit from faster job growth. Higher job growth can indicate employers are opening and filling positions quicker. A relatively high job growth gives people the opportunity to reenter the labor market. On the other hand, “If you have a very slow job growth, you can have workers with skills, but there is not an opportunity for them,” Dixon said.

The best states to be unemployed generally had fast job growth. North Dakota and Utah’s job growth was a remarkable 5.2% and 3.0% in the 12 months through April. On the other hand, the worst states to be unemployed generally had slower job growth.

However, not all states fell into this pattern. Job growth in three of the worst states to be unemployed was roughly in line with the national growth rate of 1.7%. Among the best states, job growth in three states was just 1.0% or less.

The best states to be unemployed generally had fast job growth. North Dakota and Utah’s job growth was a remarkable 5.2% and 3.0% in the 12 months through April. On the other hand, the worst states to be unemployed generally had slower job growth. However, not all states fell into this pattern. Job growth in three of the worst states to be unemployed was 1.6% or more year-over-year, at least in line with the national growth rate. Among the best states, job growth in three states was just 1.0% or less.

But even when employers are adding to payrolls and competition for jobs is modest, it still takes many workers time to land a job. This may mean relying on unemployment insurance benefits for that period of time. Nationally, unemployment insurance benefits covered an average of 33% of the average weekly wages for the unemployed. In all but one of the worst states to be unemployed, workers received less coverage. Across the best states to be unemployed, this figure, known as the replacement rate, was above 38% in all but one of the top 10.

According to Dixon, an appropriate replacement rate can help people get back to work faster. If the replacement rate is good then the worker can focus on their job search,” Dixon said. They “have funds to go on job interviews, [for] transportation, [and] to meet their basic needs in the mean time.

The number of unemployed workers that receive unemployment insurance is also a critical factor in determining how favorable a state is for the unemployed. Known as the recipiency rate, all but one of the best states to be unemployed had a rate above the national rate of 27% in the 12 months through the first quarter of 2014. In five of these states — Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, and Vermont — at least 38% of the unemployed received benefits.

Conversely, some of the worst states to be unemployed provided benefits to comparatively few residents. Just 16% of the unemployed workers in Georgia and Tennessee received regular benefits.

To determine the worst states to be unemployed, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed figures published by the Department of Labor’s Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The recipiency rates and replacement rates from the OUI are for the 12 months running through the end of the first quarter of 2014. Unemployment rates from the BLS are for April 2014, with job growth figures reflecting preliminary changes in the nonfarm payrolls measure during the 12 months through April. Both measures are seasonally adjusted. We also utilized additional measures from the Department of Labor.

These are the best (and worst) states to be unemployed.

The Best States to be Unemployed

10. Wisconsin
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 38% (5th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 34.1% (22nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.8% (24th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 1.9% (12th highest)

Wisconsin has benefited recently from an expansion of its health and education sectors, which together grew by 2.2% in the 12 months through April 2014. While most of the new jobs in these sectors were temporary, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, job growth has been strong in these sectors over the last three years. More broadly, state nonfarm payrolls grew 1.9%, the 12th highest growth rate in the country, and higher than the national rate of 1.7%. The strong job growth likely helped keep Wisconsin’s unemployment rate consistently below the national rate. For those without a job, the state offers relatively accessible unemployment insurance. Wisconsin had the fifth highest recipiency rate in the country.

9. Montana
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
39% (4th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
41.5% (7th highest)
> Unemployment rate:
4.8% (tied-13th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
0.8% (12th lowest)

High recipiency and replacement rates, coupled with low unemployment make Montana a better state than most in which to be unemployed. Montana generously replaced nearly 42% of unemployed workers’ income, the seventh highest nationwide. Additionally, Montana’s unemployment rate was nearly 2 percentage points below the national rate. According to the BLS, rebounds in logging and financial services sectors following the 2008 recession helped strengthen the state’s labor market. However, years of high job growth may be difficult to sustain. This is potentially true of Montana, where the total number of jobs grew only 0.8% in the 12 months through April.

ALSO READ: Ten States with the Slowing Growing Economies

8. Kansas
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
30% (17th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
43.2% (5th highest)
> Unemployment rate:
4.8% (tied-13th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.2% (25th highest)

Unemployed Kansas workers received an average of $342 each week, or approximately 43% of their average weekly income. This was the fifth highest replacement rate in the country. Additionally, Kansas had relatively low unemployment in recent years. Its April 2012 unemployment rate was just 5.5%. By April 2013 it was 4.9%, and a year later it was 4.8%. By comparison, the U.S.’s unemployment rate was 8.2%, 7.5%, and 6.3%, in the respective months. Kansas had a moderate job growth of 1.2%, below the national jobs growth rate of 1.7%. But the state’s underemployment rate, which was 3 percentage points below the nationwide rate in the 12 months through the first quarter of 2014, indicates the Kansas job market is relatively strong. In recent years, Kansas has broadly cut state taxes in an effort to spur job growth, a policy that has won both praise and criticism.

7. Wyoming
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
29% (19th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
42.2% (6th highest)
> Unemployment rate:
3.7% (4th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.1% (23rd lowest)

The unemployment rate in Wyoming was only 3.7% in April, considerably less than the national rate and among the lowest nationwide. Additionally, Wyoming had the fourth-lowest underemployment rate in the country, suggesting that Wyoming residents were not forced to accept less-than-ideal jobs. While the share of unemployed residents receiving benefits was only slightly above the national rate, unemployment insurance recipients received approximately 42% of their average weekly wage in benefits. This was the sixth highest replacement rate in the country. Wyoming’s economy and jobs have historically been closely tied to the state’s energy industry. For example, the coal industry directly or indirectly accounts for one-sixth of Wyoming jobs, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

ALSO READ: Ten States with the Fastest Growing Economies

6. Minnesota
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
38% (tied-5th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
39.7% (10th highest)
> Unemployment rate:
4.7% (12th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.5% (21st highest)

After experiencing dramatic job losses during the recession, employment in Minnesota’s construction and manufacturing sectors have rebounded in recent years. Job growth
in these sectors has helped maintain the state’s unemployment rate below the national rate. Just 4.7% of Minnesota workers were unemployed in April, versus 6.3% of workers nationwide. Unemployed workers also benefited from Minnesota’s high recipiency rate. The state extended unemployment insurance to 38% of its jobless working population, the fifth highest recipiency rate in the country. Workers who received benefits were awarded an average of $381, or nearly 40% of their prior wages, among the highest replacement rates nationwide.

5. Vermont
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
41% (2nd highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
39.6% (11th highest)
> Unemployment rate:
3.3% (2nd lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.0% (21st lowest)

Vermont offered one of the best unemployment insurance benefits packages in the country. With a 41% recipiency rate in the 12 months through the first quarter of 2012, many of the people who applied for unemployment insurance received it. Of the people who received benefits, roughly 19% exhausted their benefits completely, fewer than in all other states and well below the nearly 44% exhaustion rate nationwide. Vermont’s job market has benefited tremendously from tourism, according to the BLS. Jobs in tourism grew 12% in the 24 months prior to April 2014. Collectively, as of April, nearly 35,000 of the roughly 307,000 jobs in Vermont were in the leisure and hospitality industries. As of April of this year, Vermont boasted the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, at just 3.3%.

ALSO READ: States Spending the Most (and Least) on Education

4. Hawaii
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
38% (tied-5th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
52.0% (the highest)
> Unemployment rate:
4.4% (8th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.0% (20th lowest)

Hawaii had the highest replacement rate in the country, covering 52% of unemployed workers’ previous average wages. Coupled with a 38% recipiency rate, tied for fifth highest nationwide, Hawaii had one of the most generous unemployment insurance programs in the country. Hawaii’s economy is supported by its services sector, which includes business services, hospitality, and health care. The services sector has experienced strong growth since the 2008 recession. While total job growth of 1% is below the national rate of 1.7% in the 12 months through April, strong job growth in the service sector helped sustain a low unemployment rate. However, Hawaii’s underemployment rate was the 13th highest in the country. This suggests that, while the state has been performing reasonably well, a significant portion of its population has been accepting less-than-ideal employment options.

3. Utah
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
25% (21st lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
43.9% (3rd highest)
> Unemployment rate:
3.8% (5th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
3.0% (5th highest)

Utah was one of the best states to be unemployed, in large part because of its high-performing job market. The state’s unemployment rate of 3.8% was fifth lowest, and its job growth in the last 12 months of 3% was fifth highest. Only a few sectors of the Utah economy had not exhibited robust growth in the 12 months ending April 2014. For the few people without jobs, nearly 44% of their average weekly income was replaced, the third highest recipiency rate in the country.

ALSO READ: The States with the Strongest (and Weakest) Unions

2. Iowa
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
35% (10th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
43.6% (4th highest)
> Unemployment rate:
4.3% (7th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth
: 1.6% (19th highest)

Nonfarm job growth in Iowa was in line with the rest of the nation, at 1.6% in the 12 months through April. Despite this, Iowa had the the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the country, at just 4.3% as of April. For those workers who could not find a job, the state offered a relatively strong unemployment insurance program. According to the Department of Labor, 35% of unemployed workers received benefits in the most recently recorded 12 months, well above the 27% nationally. These benefits covered, on average, nearly 44% of the residents’ prior wages, a better replacement rate than all but three other states.

1. North Dakota
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
34% (13th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 45.1% (2nd highest)
> Unemployment rate:
2.6% (the lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
5.2% (the highest)

North Dakota was the best state in which to be unemployed. Not only did the state have a stable labor market, but it also had quite a generous uninsurance employment program. Unemployed residents received $407 each week in benefits, or 45% of average weekly income. This was the second highest replacement rate in the country. Indicating the vibrancy of North Dakota’s economy ,the state’s unemployment rate was just 2.6% in April, the lowest of any state. Additionally, the underemployment rate was 5.5%, also the nation’s lowest. All of these figures speak to the health of North Dakota’s job market, which grew at a nation-leading 5.2% in the year ending April 2014.

Click here to see the worst states to be unemployed

The Worst States to be Unemployed

10. Tennessee
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
16.0% (tied-2nd lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
27.6% (8th lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
6.3% (19th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.8% (16th highest)

The number of jobs in Tennessee grew 1.8% in the 12 months prior to April 2014, among the higher growth rates in the country. For the 6.3% of the workforce that was unemployed, however, unemployment insurance did not offer much help. The average unemployment insurance was $232, or just 27.6% of the weekly average wage in Tennessee — both well below the $312 and 33% averages for the nation, respectively. Additionally, only 16% of people who applied for unemployment insurance received it, less than in all but two other states.

9. Louisiana
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
20.0% (tied-7th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
24.8% (2nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
4.5% (10th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
0.7% (11th lowest)

Louisiana is one of the least generous states as far as unemployment insurance is concerned, offering out-of-job workers an average of $208 a week in the 12 months through the first quarter of 2014, less than all but two other states. And while Louisiana is hardly the nation’s wealthiest state, the unemployment insurance benefits amounted to just 24.8% of workers’ previous average wages, the second-lowest rate in the nation. Additionally, just 20% of the unemployed received benefits, well below the nationwide share of 27%. Louisiana’s unemployment rate has improved recently. As of April, just 4.5% of the state’s labor force was unemployed, the 10th-lowest rate in the U.S.

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8. Georgia
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
16.0% (tied-2nd lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
30.0% (13th lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
7.0% (8th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.9% (13th highest)

While Georgia still had a relatively high unemployment rate of 7% in April, it was a significant improvement — of 1.3 percentage points — from the year before. The state’s relatively high job growth of 1.9% in the 12 months ending in April 2014 likely helped. The strong job growth could also explain why Georgia residents spent only 11 weeks on average collecting unemployment insurance, the shortest period in the country. However, only 16% of applicants for unemployment insurance actually received it. This was tied with Tennessee for the nation’s second-lowest recipiency rate. Of those who received benefits, the average benefits amounted to just 30% of the average weekly wage, one of the lowest in the nation.

7. Virginia
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
19% (6th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
30.7% (15th lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
4.9% (15th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
-0.1% (2nd lowest)

Just 19% of out-of-work residents in Virginia received unemployment benefits in the 12 months through the first quarter of 2014, a lower proportion than in all but a handful of states. It’s likely many of the unemployed simply ran out of benefit eligibility. According to the Department of Labor, during that time the state’s exhaustion rate — a rough measure of how many workers have exhausted their unemployment benefits — was 48%. This was one of the highest rates in the nation. Slow job growth likely contributed to the high exhaustion rate. In the 12 months through April, the state actually lost jobs. The total number of nonfarm jobs shrank by 0.1% in that time, more than any state except for New Mexico.

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6. Arizona
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
17.0% (tied-4th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
25.3% (3rd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (tied-9th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
1.6% (18th highest)

Unemployed Arizona residents received an average of $221 in benefits. This was equal to just 25.3% of their average weekly wage, less than in all but two other states. Additionally, just 17% of the unemployed received benefits in the 12 months through the first quarter of the year, less than in all but a handful of states. This may be in part due to the state’s high benefit exhaustion rate of 45.8%, which was higher than in the majority of states. As of April, the total number of jobs in Arizona rose by 1.6% in the preceding 12 months, while the unemployment rate dropped to 6.9%. However, many of the residents who found a job in that time may have not found full-time work. The state’s underemployment rate during that time was 16.1%, third worst nationwide behind only California and Nevada.

5. Illinois
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
26.0% (24th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
32.3% (17th lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
7.9% (3rd highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
0.5% (7th lowest)

Illinois’ April unemployment rate of 7.9% was among the highest in the nation, likely due in part to tepid job creation. Nonfarm payrolls grew by only 0.5% in the 12 months through April. While job growth is slow, duration of unemployment insurance benefits was among the longest in the country. The nearly 18 weeks unemployed workers received benefits was the 10th longest span in the country. Still, nearly three-quarters of the states’ unemployed did not receive benefits, less than in about half of all states. Further, not all workers with a job were necessarily well off. As of the first quarter, Illinois’ underemployment rate, which includes all workers not working to the extent they want to, was 15.6% over the preceding 12 months. This was higher than in all but four other states.

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4. Kentucky
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
20.0% (tied-7th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
37.5% (19th highest)
> Unemployment rate:
7.7% (5th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
0.3% (4th lowest)

Compared to the other worst states to be unemployed, Kentucky was generous with its unemployment insurance, offering 37.5% of the average weekly wage in benefits. However, it only apportioned benefits to 20% of total applicants, one of the lowest recipiency rates in the nation. The state’s slow one-year job growth of 0.3% will likely not help much in reducing Kentucky’s 7.7% unemployment rate, which is the fifth highest in the country. Still, those who received unemployment insurance received benefits for nearly 22 weeks, the longest period of any state in the country.

3. Michigan
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
23.0% (16th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
32.6% (18th lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
7.4% (7th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
0.6% (8th lowest)

Michigan’s unemployed workers received unemployment insurance benefits for an average of slightly more than 13 weeks. This was lower than in all but five other states and more than three weeks less than the average length nationwide. Additionally, only 23% of people who applied for unemployment insurance received benefits, among the lower recipiency rates for applications nationwide. These factors may lead some residents to take any job, including part-time work — Michigan’s high underemployment rate of 15.2% was one of the highest in the U.S. The state’s unemployment rate of 7.4% in April was also among the highest in the nation. Unfortunately, Michigan’s job growth of 0.6% does not bode well for the state’s unemployed.

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2. Alabama
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
24.0% (18th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
26.2% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
6.9% (tied-9th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
0.7% (10th lowest)

Alabama was one of the least generous states with its unemployment insurance, providing residents with only 26.2% of average weekly income. This was the sixth lowest coverage in the country. The recipiency rate was also slightly below the national rate of 27%. While unemployment was 6.9%, roughly in line with the national rate of 6.7%, underemployment in Alabama was a full percentage point lower than the national underemployment rate. This suggests that state residents found jobs commensurate with their skills and education, in spite of the slow job growth. In the 12 months through April, Alabama’s total nonfarm payrolls rose by just 0.7%, lower than 40 other states.

1. Mississippi
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
22.0% (14th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered:
28.3% (10th lowest)
> Unemployment rate:
7.5% (6th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth:
0.9% (16th lowest)

Mississippi is the worst state in the country to be unemployed. Recipients of unemployment insurance collected an average of just $194 a week, the only state offering unemployed residents less than $200 per week. This accounted for 28.3% of the average weekly wage in the year preceding April 2014, much lower than the 33% coverage unemployed Americans received nationwide. Moreover, only 22% of applicants received unemployment benefits, below the national recipiency rate of 27%. While Mississippi’s unemployment rate declined in recent years, it still remained 0.8 percentage points above the national rate.

Click here to see the best states to be unemployed