Special Report

The Best (and Worst) States to Be Unemployed

10. West Virginia
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
36.2% (12th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 39.0% (20th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.4% (3rd highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: -0.6% (4th lowest)

West Virginia has one of the weakest labor markets in the country, with the third highest unemployment rate of 6.4%. Further, the number of jobs in the state has declined by 0.6%, a greater decline than in all but three states. Those who are unemployed in West Virginia face competition from other jobseekers and likely have fewer positions to choose from.

9. New Mexico
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
20.9% (15th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 41.1% (12th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.2% (5th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 0.2% (8th lowest)

Those who find themselves unemployed in New Mexico are much less likely to find a job than those in most other states. The number of jobs in the state increased by just 0.2% over the past year, less than in the vast majority of states. The state’s current unemployment rate of 6.2% is the fifth highest in the country. New Mexico has the typical 26 weeks maximum benefits, but the maximum payout is barely over $400 — lower than in the majority of states. Only slightly more than one in five jobless residents are currently receiving unemployment insurance. The state recently implemented a new system to target and reduce UI claim fraud, and the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions claims the program has been largely successful.

8. South Carolina
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
13.7% (6th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 32.0% (19th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.8% (8th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 2.7% (12th highest)

South Carolina was one of a handful of states to reduce UI benefits in aftermath of the Great Recession, cutting the maximum availability of payments from 26 to 20 weeks. Partially as a result, South Carolina’s recipiency rate fell 2.3 times as quickly as the country’s as a whole.

Today, South Carolina’s UI program serves just 13.7% of the state’s unemployed population, the sixth lowest recipiency rate nationwide. The average beneficiary receives UI payments for only 11 weeks, a shorter duration than in any state other than Georgia. Despite declining since the recession, South Carolina’s 5.8% unemployment rate is still one of the highest in the country.

7. Arizona
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
14.4% (9th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 24.8% (the lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.5% (12th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 3.1% (8th highest)

Arizona has one of the higher unemployment rates in the United States. However, the number of jobs in the state has increased by 3.1% in the past year, a sign that the unemployed may be starting to find work. Still, those who are unemployed are unlikely to be compensated well — if they are receiving benefits at all. Just 14.4% of Arizona’s unemployed receive UI benefits compared to a national recipiency rate of 27.3%. The maximum weekly benefits a state resident can receive is just $240, less than in all but two states. The average payout of $224.14 amounts to less than one-quarter of the average Arizona weekly wage, the worst replacement rate in the country.

6. Illinois
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
29.0% (23rd highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 33.1% (21st lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.6% (tied- the highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 1.1% (13th lowest)

Those seeking work in Illinois face one of the toughest job markets in the country. Over the past year, the state’s unemployment rate rose by 0.7 percentage points, while the national unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage points. Today, the state’s 6.6% unemployment rate is tied with Alaska as the highest in the country..

For those receiving UI benefits in Illinois, payments are somewhat modest. The average UI payment accounts for 33.1% of the state’s average weekly earnings, a replacement rate slightly below the 33.9% national figure.

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