Special Report

Worst States to Be Unemployed

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40. Maine
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $359 (24th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 193,221 (28.2% of labor force — 21st highest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -10.8% (10th largest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 6.6% (6th lowest)

Maine ranks as the best state in which to be unemployed in the Northeast and 11th best nationwide. Along with many other states, Maine has implemented a short-time compensation policy, meaning employers can reduce worker hours to avoid layoffs and affected workers are eligible for partial unemployment insurance benefits. This policy may explain why joblessness is less common in Maine than it is nationwide. The state’s June unemployment rate of 6.6% is lower than in most of the rest of the country.

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39. Nebraska
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $351 (23rd lowest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 166,570 (16.2% of labor force — 4th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -5.0% (7th smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 6.7% (7th lowest)

Over the course of the pandemic, Nebraska has weathered the economic fallout relatively well. There have been 166,570 initial unemployment claims since mid-March, equal to 16.2% of the labor force, one of the smallest shares of any state. As of June, the official unemployment rate stands at 6.7% in Nebraska, below the vast majority of states.

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38. New Mexico
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $343 (21st lowest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 195,316 (20.6% of labor force — 7th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -7.2% (19th smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 8.3% (19th lowest)

Over the year leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average unemployment insurance benefit payout in New Mexico was $343, lower than in most states, but equal to 47.8% of average weekly wages among workers in the state. Now, with the additional $600 in unemployment benefits Americans are being paid through the end of July, many of those out of work in the state are likely making more than they would have if they were still employed, at least until that additional benefit expires.

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37. South Dakota
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $359 (23rd highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 58,652 (12.8% of labor force — 2nd lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -5.4% (10th smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 7.2% (9th lowest)

Since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began taking an economic toll, there have been about 59,000 initial unemployment claims in South Dakota, equal to 12.8% of the state’s total labor force, nearly the smallest share of any state in the country. Additionally, before the pandemic, only about 15% of unemployment benefit recipients in the state exhausted those benefits before finding a job, one of the smallest shares of any state in the country.

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36. Texas
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $427 (9th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 2.9 million (20.8% of labor force — 8th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -5.4% (11th smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 8.6% (23rd lowest)

Texas 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. This may partially explain why Texas’s unemployment rate of 8.6% is considerably lower than the comparable 11.1% national rate.

Even before the pandemic, when the federal government instituted emergency increases in unemployment benefits of $600 a week, Texas had one of the higher average weekly unemployment payouts among states, at $427.

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