Special Report

Worst States to Be Unemployed

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50. North Dakota
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $460 (6th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 83,330 (20.9% of labor force — 9th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -8.6% (24th largest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 6.1% (4th lowest)

North Dakota ranks as the best state in which to be unemployed, largely due to its average weekly unemployment insurance benefit payout, which, at $460 not including additional benefits from the CARES Act, is higher than the average payout in all but five other states. Additionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployed residents of North Dakota are not required to continue to look for work in order to receive benefits.

North Dakota also ranks highly on this list because its job market has so far weathered the economic fallout of the pandemic relatively well. The state’s jobless rate as of June stands at 6.4%, one of the lowest unemployment rates among states and well below the 11.1% national rate.

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49. Idaho
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $351 (24th lowest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 172,092 (19.8% of labor force — 6th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -3.0% (2nd smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 5.6% (3rd lowest)

Overall employment dipped by 3.0% — from 759,000 in June 2019 to 736,000 in June 2020 — the second smallest decline of any state. Partially as a result, Idaho’s 5.6% unemployment rate is nearly the lowest of any state and about half the national jobless rate. For residents who lost their jobs during the pandemic, Idaho is one of the states that waived the seven-day waiting period for unemployment insurance applicants to receive their benefits.

Leading up to the pandemic, unemployment benefits lasted for an average of 7.6 weeks in Idaho. However, in late June, the Idaho Department of Labor announced it was beginning to notify eligible unemployed state residents that their benefits could be extended an additional 13 weeks.

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48. Montana
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $379 (17th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 125,703 (23.9% of labor force — 20th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -4.8% (4th smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 7.1% (8th lowest)

On July 1, 2020, the Montana Department of Labor & Industry announced that unemployed residents who had exhausted their state and federal benefits are eligible for an additional 13 weeks of payments. Montana residents are also among the least likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The jobless rate in the state as of June stands at 7.1%, one of the lowest state unemployment rates and well below the 11.1% national unemployment rate.

Likely due in part to a relatively resilient labor market and extended unemployment benefits, Montana residents are less likely than most Americans to be unable to afford basic necessities. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, just 13.5% of adults in the state cannot afford their monthly housing bills during the pandemic, well below the 25.3% share of adults nationwide who cannot.

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47. Utah
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $451 (8th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 199,980 (12.6% of labor force — the lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -2.7% (the smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 5.1% (2nd lowest)

Utah’s job market has, so far, made it through the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed. As of June, there were about 1.5 million people still working in the state, down 2.7% from the previous June, the smallest annual employment decline of any state. For those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, Utah has waived its work search requirements for unemployment benefit recipiency.

Leading up to the pandemic, Utah’s average weekly payment to unemployment insurance recipients was $451 per week, higher than in most other states.

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46. Iowa
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $394 (15th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 390,695 (22.8% of labor force — 15th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -7.4% (21st smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 8.0% (18th lowest)

Iowa is one of several states to institute a short-time compensation policy, meaning employers can reduce worker hours to avoid layoffs and affected workers are eligible for partial unemployment insurance benefits. Even before the pandemic, when the federal government instituted emergency increases in unemployment benefits of $600 a week, Iowa had one of the higher average weekly unemployment payouts among states, at nearly $400.

Iowa’s economy has also, so far, weathered the pandemic relatively well. The state’s 8.0% June unemployment rate is considerably lower than the 11.1% national rate.

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