Special Report

The Best (and Worst) States to Be Unemployed

5. North Carolina
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
11.4% (2nd lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 28.1% (10th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.4% (15th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 2.3% (15th highest)

The North Carolina legislature enacted in 2013 a law that prematurely cut all funding from the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program — which provided benefits to individuals that had exhausted their regular state benefits — before the program was set to expire. As a result, an estimated 170,000 unemployed residents lost their UI benefits by the second half of the year. The bill also cut the amount many claimants can receive and established more restrictive UI eligibility rules.

Today, just 11.4% of unemployed North Carolinians receive UI benefits, the second lowest recipiency rate nationwide. For the minority of jobless residents who receive benefits, the average payment covers just 28.1% of the state’s average weekly earnings, one of the lower replacement rates in the country.

4. Alaska
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
50.6% (2nd highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 26.5% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.6% (tied- the highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: -1.0% (3rd lowest)

Alaska’s unemployment benefits program is not as unfavorable as many of the worst states to be unemployed. More than half of the state’s unemployed are currently receiving benefits, the second highest recipiency rate in the country. The maximum weekly UI payout of $370 is worse than the majority of states but still higher than 13 states. The greatest negative for the state’s unemployed population is the difficult job environment Alaskans face. The state’s unemployment rate of 6.6% is tied with Illinois for the highest in the country. In the past 12 months, as the number of U.S. jobs increased by 1.9%, the number of Alaskan jobs declined by 1.0%, worse than in all but two other states. In both 2014 and 2015, Alaska meaningfully reduced the taxes intended to fund unemployment insurance in the state.

3. Mississippi
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
13.1% (3rd lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 28.8% (11th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.0% (7th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 1.4% (21st lowest)

Mississippi residents seeking work face one of the harshest job markets in the country. Despite falling by 0.5 percentage points in the past year, the state’s 6.0% unemployment rate is the seventh highest nationwide.

Only 13.1% of Mississippi’s unemployed receive UI benefits, the third lowest recipiency rate in the country. For the few who receive unemployment insurance, the benefits are relatively thin. The maximum weekly UI payment is set at $235, lower than in any state except for Louisiana. An average UI payment in Mississippi accounts for only 28.8% of the average weekly wage, much less than the national 33.9% replacement rate.

2. Alabama
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
16.9% (10th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 26.4% (5th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.1% (6th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 1.3% (20th lowest)

Just 16.9% of Alabama’s unemployed population receives UI benefits compared to a national recipiency rate of 27.3%. Those who receive benefits get a maximum of $265 weekly, the fourth smallest amount in the country. On average, Alabamians receive significantly less than that at just $219.37, $116 less than the national average weekly benefits. The state’s jobless likely have a harder time than most finding work — the state’s unemployment rate of 6.1% is the sixth highest in the country.

1. Louisiana
>Pct. unemployed getting benefits:
13.5% (5th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 25.0% (2nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.3% (4th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: -0.6% (5th lowest)

An unfavorable job market and an inadequate unemployment insurance program makes Louisiana the worst state for the unemployed. The state’s 6.3% unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the country, and its 0.6% decline in employment over the past year was the fifth worst. Louisiana residents filed 12.2% more unemployment claims in 2015 than in 2014, while UI claims nationwide fell by 6.8% last year.

Only 13.5% of Louisiana’s unemployed receive UI benefits, the fifth lowest recipiency rate in the country. For those who do, the benefits are relatively scant. The maximum weekly UI payment is set at $221, the least of any state. An average week’s UI payment covers just one-fourth of the average weekly wage in the state, the lowest replacement rate of any state except for Arizona.