Special Report

Worst States to Be Unemployed

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35. Vermont
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $360 (22nd highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 79,502 (23.1% of labor force — 18th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -13.1% (5th largest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 9.4% (25th highest)

Vermont has some of the least restrictive unemployment benefit policies of any state during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers who left their job due to risk of exposure, to care for sick or isolated family members due to the virus, or to care for a child whose school was closed may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Vermont has also waived its work search requirement for those receiving unemployment benefits.

Though Vermont has a strong social safety net, few states have seen a decline in employment as dramatic as Vermont. As of June, there were 275,000 people employed in the state, a 13.1% decline from the same month the previous year, nearly the largest decline among states.

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34. Connecticut
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $407 (13th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 458,674 (24.2% of labor force — 23rd lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -10.3% (13th largest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 9.8% (21st highest)

During the months leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak, about 60% of unemployed Connecticut residents received unemployment insurance benefits, a higher recipiency rate than most states. The recipiency rate is likely even higher now as the state waived the requirement that benefit recipients be actively looking for work during the pandemic.

Job losses have surged in Connecticut during the pandemic. Overall employment fell by 10.3% in Connecticut, while nationwide, 8.6% of jobs have disappeared so far.

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33. Oregon
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $424 (10th highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 542,352 (25.8% of labor force — 25th highest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -8.6% (25th largest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 11.2% (14th highest)

The economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon has been closely in line with its overall effect nationwide. In Oregon, 11.2% of the labor force is unemployed — compared to the 11.1% U.S. jobless rate. Similarly, the number of people working in Oregon fell by 8.6% from June 2019 to June 2020, the same decline reported across the U.S. as a whole.

In an effort to reduce joblessness, Oregon implemented a short-time compensation policy, whereby employers can reduce worker hours to avoid layoffs, and affected workers are eligible for partial unemployment insurance benefits. For those who lost their jobs, the standard one-week waiting period for benefits to kick in has been waived during the pandemic.

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32. Washington
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $527 (2nd highest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 1.5 million (37.6% of labor force — 7th highest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -9.0% (22nd largest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 9.8% (21st highest)

Leading up to the pandemic, the average weekly unemployment benefit payout in Washington was $527. While this is the second highest payment among states, it only covered about 41% of the average working wage in the state, which is not an especially high replacement rate, relative to most states.

Although Washington has had some of the most initial unemployment claims of any state relative to the size of its workforce, its economy has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well. As of June, Washington’s unemployment rate stood at 9.8%, slightly below the 11.1% national jobless rate.

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31. Arkansas
> Pre-COVID avg. weekly unemployment benefit payout: $270 (9th lowest)
> Unemployment claims, mid-March through July 11: 299,227 (22.1% of labor force — 12th lowest)
> Employment change, June 2019 to June 2020: -5.1% (8th smallest decline)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 8.0% (18th lowest)

Like Americans in other states, eligible Arkansas residents who are out of work are receiving an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits during the pandemic through the end of July. However, in the months leading up to the current economic crisis, Arkansas’ benefits were some of smallest of any state. The average weekly unemployment payout in the state was just $270, lower than the vast majority of states.

Arkansas’s economy has, so far, weathered COVID-19 pandemic better than most of the country. The state’s jobless rate of 8.0% is considerably lower than the 11.1% national unemployment rate.

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