States With The Highest And Lowest Unemployment Benefits

Here's a look at the sates with the highest and lowest unemployment benefits. Unemployments vary more than you think by state. Therefore, some unemployed people are faring better than others.

During the pandemic, the federal government significantly boosted unemployment benefits. The CARES Act provided an additional $600/week through the week of July 31, 2020. And the latest $1.9 stimulus package that was passed in 1Q2021 provides for an extra $300/week in enhanced unemployment benefits until September 6, 2021.

Before both acts were passed, the typical maximum unemployment benefit duration was 27 weeks provided by the state.

Having millions of people out of work is terrible. However, the optimist would say millions of people are benefitting from enhanced unemployment benefits during a difficult time.

Let's take a look at the states with the lowest and highest unemployment benefits. I'll then add on the temporary $600/week to see what the total maximum unemployment benefit a person could get. It will take a long time to roll out the vaccines to achieve herd immunity. Therefore, expect to see more enhanced unemployment benefits in the future.

States With The Highest Unemployment Benefits

Below is a table I put together with the top 25 states with the highest unemployment benefits. In order to get the maximum you have to earn a minimum amount of income to qualify. This is usually based on the prior four quarters of one's earnings.

Each minimum income amount to earn the maximum unemployment benefit is slightly different by state. The enhanced unemployment benefits will change over time. However, the normal weekly and monthly unemployment benefit maxes won't. So focus on those two columns in the future.

Look at the Weekly Max and Normal Monthly Max columns to see what the unemployment benefits are by state when there are no more special federal government subsidies.

States with the highest unemployment benefits including CARES Act increased benefits

Earning $4,276 to $5,692 a month in Total Maximum unemployment benefits per person should be enough to live a comfortable lifestyle. That's an annualized income of $51,312 to $68,304 for just one person compared to the median household income of ~$64,000.

There is a correlation between the amount of qualified income, the unemployment benefit amount and the cost of living per state. In other words, higher cost of living states generally have higher unemployment benefits.

However, some states such as Minnesota, Oregon, North Dakota, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Ohio seem to have more generous unemployment benefits than their cost of living would dictate.

For example, the median household income in North Dakota is $61,843 a year or $5,153 a month. With the expanded unemployment, unemployed North Dakotans can now earn $4,932 a month. If you have two in the household who were once working, the potential maximum unemployment amount is $9,864 a month.

The Best State To Become Unemployed

In my opinion, the state you want to best become unemployed in is Hawaii. Hawaii is sunny and warm all the time with lots of free outdoor activities. And what's great is Hawaii also offers $648/week in maximum unemployment benefits.

Due to the CARES Act, the unemployed get $1,248/week maximum or $4,992/month per person. Even receiving the normal $2,592 a month unemployment maximum is pretty good.

It is common in Hawaii to have multi-generations living together under one roof. Thus, you could easily have two or three people getting unemployment benefits and live a reasonable lifestyle. Is there any wonder why Hawaii is consistently in the rankings as the happiest state in the country?

Related: How A High-Performing Employee Was Able To Negotiate A Severance And Be Free

States With The Lowest Unemployment Benefits

On the flip side, below are the states with the lowest unemployment benefits. The amounts are much lower than the states with the highest unemployment benefits. However, the benefit amounts correlate with the cost of living per state.

For example, Puerto Rico has a median household income of roughly $20,500 a year or $1,708 a month. If true that an extra $600/week applies to unemployed Puerto Ricans as well, unemployed Puerto Ricans can now earn $3,160 a month or 85% more than the median household income.

* When the enhanced unemployment benefits finally go away, you can just focus on the Normal Monthly Max column to check the states with the lowest unemployment benefits.

States with the lowest unemployment benefits, including CARES Act enhanced benefits of $600/week

The lowest cost of living states that provide the most unemployment benefits are Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, West Virginia, South Dakota, and of course, Puerto Rico.

The states and district that provide the least amount of unemployment benefits due to their higher cost of living are California, D.C., and Arizona.

I used to think getting $450/week in San Francisco was pretty good. But I changed my mind once I saw how much more cities in other states are getting. And they have a much lower cost of living. Now I think $450/week in normal times isn't very good at all.

It's funny how everything is relative in finance. Again, the new enhanced unemployment benefit amount is $300/week, that will go away on September 6, 2021.

States With Highest Unemployment Benefits With Dependents

Please note that the following states below allow for even higher unemployment benefits, depending on the number of dependents:

  • Connecticut: $649 max normal a week, up to $749 with dependents
  • Illinois: $484 max normal a week, up to $667 with dependents
  • Massachusetts: $823 max normal a week, up to $1,234 with dependents
  • Ohio: $480 max normal a week, up to $647 with dependents
  • Pennsylvania: $572 max normal a week, up to $580 with dependents
  • Rhode Island: $586 max normal a week, up to $867 with dependents

Add on another $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. And you can see these states truly do their best to take care of unemployed families.

Massachusetts is the best state to be unemployed with dependents. But you have to be able to handle the bitter cold four months a year. Ohio is the best value for unemployed families given the low cost of living.

States Where Unemployment Benefits Are Higher Than Average Wages

Here's a chart put together by Evercore ISI Research. It shows states that offer higher unemployment benefits than the average wage. More states now offer higher unemployment benefits than average wages.

These states include: Maine, New Mexico, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana, Mississippi, Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Tennessee, Nevada, North Dakota, Louisiana, Delaware, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, Utah, South Carolina, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, and Ohio.

What's great is that even if you have investment income, you can still collect unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits are tied to W-2 job income, and not to investment income.

Therefore, it behooves everyone to try and build as much passive investment income as possible for financial independence. It's not good enough to just contribute to your tax-advantage retirement accounts. You must focus on building up your taxable investment accounts and real estate portfolio.

Surviving Unemployment

I understand there is a lot of angst, uncertainty, and frustration during this time. This is especially true if you don't have a job anymore. However, the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill provides enhanced unemployment benefits. And remind yourself you won't be without a job forever.

Getting an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits through July 31, 2020 should be extremely helpful to get most folks through this disaster. However, that has long past and we now have new enhanced unemployment benefits averaging an extra $300 a week in 2021.

Biden is currently talking about another $2 trillion infrastructure package. If so, there will likely be inflationary pressure on the horizon. As a result, I think it's worth buying real estate to ride the inflation wave.

I've personally invested $810,000 in real estate crowdfunding platforms such as Fundrise and CrowdStreet to take advantage of lower valuations and higher cap rates in the heartland. Inflation should push rents and capital values higher. Therefore, I want to benefit as well.

Both platforms are free to sign up and explore.

Rising rents during the pandemic

Negotiate A Severance Package Before A Layoff

If you are still working, consider trying to engineer your layoff. If you want to leave your job anyway, it doesn't hurt to try and get a severance package.

Now is a great time because unemployment benefits are at all-time highs. In addition, you'd be helping your boss save someone who might really need a job.

For a boss or supervisor, having to decide who to furlough or lay off during a downturn is an onerous task. If you raise your hand and have a smart conversation with your boss you could be surprised by the results.

You can get a good amount of unemployment compensation, you can also potentially get a severance package. The propensity to offer a severance package is also at an all-time high.

If you want to get back into the workforce, it's not a bad idea to try and maximize your unemployment benefits until you find your ideal job.

Besides, it's not easy finding a job during a lockdown. Unemployment is the time to reflect on what you have done and think deeply about what you really want to do with your life. With the economy opening up, more job opportunities await!

Start A Fresh New Chapter In Your Life

Who knows, you might enjoy not working for someone else so much that you decide to start a business or if you have enough investment income, to retire. Not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009. You won’t regret planting your own flag online too.

If you've been thinking about retiring soon, use the unemployment period as an early retirement test drive. It's actually quite similar. Best of luck everyone!

Readers, which states do you think provide the best benefits adjusted for the cost of living? Do you think you could comfortably live off the maximum benefit amounts provided by your state? If there are any unemployment changes/differences you notice from your state, please let me know and I'll update the charts.

To subscribe to the Financial Samurai newsletter with 50,000+ others click here. You'll get more free nuanced personal finance content to help you achieve financial freedom sooner. States With The Highest And Lowest Unemployment Benefits is a FS original post. As we come out of the pandemic, Federal unemployment benefits have been cut.

About The Author

48 thoughts on “States With The Highest And Lowest Unemployment Benefits”

  1. Well, I *would* be making way more with unemployment. Self-employed worker here in PA.
    However I wasn’t able to successfully submit an UE/PUA application until a few days ago due to the various glitches. Who knows how long it will be until we get any $. My PPP was rejected (kinda ok with it at least I could apply for PUA now) still waiting on EIDL, stimulus direct deposit, many other grant/loan programs I applied for. In theory it’s great but I’ll believe it when I actually see anything happening. I know very few of my friends/colleagues (low-mid income, and mostly self-employed) who have gotten anything yet other than a career-specific outside grant thus far.

    1. Missouri is there at $320/week max normally. It’s one of the states with the lowest unemployment benefits, and only 20 weeks normally to boot. However, with the enhanced $600/week, it’s not bad given Missouri’s cost of living is pretty low with median home price only around $166,000.

  2. Long time reader Sam, I’m doing my part to help out small businesses. My site serves as a directory that links up small business Go Fund Me pages and gift card options.

    We’ll all make it!

  3. Love reading your articles

    On the benefits calculation I believe you have multipled weekly numbers *4 to get monthly benefits . We have additional 2-3 days in a month ( outside of 4 weeks ). This should increase your monthly benefits by around 7%

  4. My kid is making more on unemployment than he’s ever made working! He’s in a unique situation. 19 yr old college student. Had a part time job at a upscale restaurant. He was employed as a waiter, but he hadn’t finished his 2 months of required training for the position before they closed. His salary during training was incredibly low. He’s only receiving $40 bucks a week from TN unemployment. Because he filed for unemployment, he also gets the $600. That’s much more than he ever made working. Apparently the $600 is paid across the board regardless of full/part time status. Not bad for a college student.

    1. Congrats! I hope your kid puts the money to good use.

      My only fear is that at 19, without much work experience, he has realized so early on that there are kinks in the system that can be exploited, or at least don’t make sense.

      I this experience doesn’t permanently demotivate him to do great things.

  5. If there’s a silver lining to all of this, I hope it helps more of us realize why government is not the “enemy” as Reagan put it. A solid social safety net is something that benefits our entire society – rich and poor. And sometimes things happen that are beyond the control of individuals or companies to effectively handle. Unfortunately, we’ve spent the better part of the last 30 years or so dismantling and defunding public services. Yes, there is a bright spot in the relatively generous unemployment benefits that Sam listed above for some states, but there is also still the issue of people getting access to and affording healthcare. Hopefully the federal govt will come through eventually with funding for states and municipalities whose budgets have been decimated as a result of this crisis. The last thing we need right now is further cuts to schools, emergency services, etc.

    To those of you concerned about possible inflation as a result of all this spending that’s kind of like worrying about getting blood on your shirt after your arm gets chopped off or something. Let’s deal with this emergency using all the tools in our arsenal. If anything, deflation is the bigger possiblity right now. 2 trillion is likely not enough. And lets be thankful that the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency as of now.

  6. “Makes me more bullish. Stimulus checks, UB, PPP. Amazing” I get that you’re not saying this is good, but rather spectacular in some way.

    So, with states and federal bank account draining faster than 3 beer through a beer bong, what will the future economic situation look like.

    Inflation, lower housing prices, rents falling, increased taxation to pay for all this?

    I’m not opposed to the sitmulus, but just curious about the future financial implications, 3 month, 6 months a year on.


      1. Mark E Mendoza

        If housing lags the stock market, for ex, the 08 crash didn’t hit housing until 2011-2012 wouldn’t it seem reasonable the same thing happens this time around as well?

          1. Mark E Mendoza

            at around 9 minutes he states historical data shows that the stock market usually is a few years behind the stock market.

            If I recall 06-07 in So. Cal was super expensive (i ended up buying out of state)
            What was I doing then ? Nothing, no banks were lending – this was 2010 and 2011,2012 etc and my industry tanked. If i recall correctly.

            Just doing diligence, not saying i know better.

            1. I’m in SoCal and I remember that it had definitely softened in 2006-2007. I bought my primary residence in 2007 and it was not the high point. I sold a tiny SFR (780 sq ft) for 430k at the same time and I remember that similar houses were (easily) going for 525k a couple of years earlier.

        1. I feel like the crash was 08 but the real estate market took until 2010-2011
          (ish) to really hit rock bottom and it stayed there for a while. I bought an investment property in 2011 (REO) and the banks owned so much inventory they were practically giving houses away. At least in the LA metro.

  7. Financial Freedom Countdown

    As a CA Bay Area resident who never used unemployment till date; this is quite disheartening. I was hoping it would be much higher. Also for some reason I had thought it is cumulative; so if not used unemployment benefit in the past; i would get more now :(

    Would receiving rental income decrease benefits or is it not considered since rental income is passive income?

  8. Thanks for the compilation of data. It’s disheartening to see that California is so low on the list considering the high cost of living, especially in the Bay Area. And disturbing to see that some states with such low costs of living like Minnesota and Oregon have such generous unemployment benefits as it gives people little incentive to actually get back to work. Who would want to if the benefits more than cover their cost of living? It encourages laziness.


      By and large – people overwhelmingly prefer work to unemployment. It isn’t just about the money. Many people get large parts of their self worth from work and not working makes them a bit crazy.

      Oregon and Minnesota have wide ranges in cost of living between the metro and way rural places. I live near Portland and the benefits above won’t good as far as you think they might.

    2. Minnesota does NOT have a low cost of living unless you’re out in the middle of nowhere which, good luck finding gainful employment. The Twin Cities metro (Minneapolis/St. Paul and the surrounding burbs) is out of control.

      Housing is ridiculous, the price of everything else is climbing, Minnesota state income taxes are astronomical. Don’t speak on what you don’t know!

    1. Would you say that if you were terminated today, knowing that *most* companies are not hiring. Unique situations happen all the time to people, I wouldn’t take your current comfortable position in life for granted. Also consider all of the skilled positions, that are forced to be closed by government mandates at the moment. Those individuals may be limited (in some cased by choice) on what they can do outside of their selected craft. I don’t think you can make a solid case with a generalization. At some point you need to have compassion for others in situations that are different than yours.

    2. Have you been living under a rock? People are being terminated because their employer cannot operate on full (in any capacity). This is not a situation where people are gaming the system. Even under normal circumstances, regular unemployment benefits are not enough to replace what you made working. Plus you have to verify that you are actually seeking employment. This is a hugely ignorant comment.

  9. Canadian Reader

    Canada gives a taxable 2k/per month/ per adult. The Emergency program will go for 4 months- then possibly be extended. Administration of targeted increases through the child benefits program and the GST/HST rebate program to further assist the needy is offered. The amount of 2k is the same amount any person would receive if they qualified for the maximum amount of federal Employment Insurance.

    The PM has been criticized as the Emergency program allows many to fall through the cracks- like students, “irregular” migrants, or my own niece who is 19 and had just started working her first restaurant job but hadn’t earned enough to qualify (5k).
    The websites and service Canada can be applauded as they have processed and paid out the majority of applications in a timely fashion.

    If one receives the Emergency benefit is doesn’t disqualify them from applying for Employment Insurance afterwards.The duration of employment insurance is based on the employment rate per region, but generally goes from 31-43 weeks. I think this will be adjusted in the near future to accommodate the total bust going on in Western Canada due to low oil prices.

    My husband and I could live on a taxable 4k/per month – but we are mortgage free and have minimal expenses. If we were still paying a mortgage it wouldn’t be pretty.

    Looks like U.S. financial programs are pretty generous!

    1. Yes, U.S. unemployment benefits are more generous than Canadian unemployment benefits. Yet, a lot of Americans don’t realize this and were up in arms when you guys announced your enhanced benefits.

      Two unemployed people in Hawaii can earn almost $10,000 a month in unemployment benefits until July 31, and over $5,000 a month until Dec 31, 2020 if the enhanced benefits are not extended.

      Although my ego would be bruised from losing my job, I would happily accept $5,000 – $10,000 until the end of the year to take a darn break from the grind and try and find something different to do.

      1. The difference is that Canadians who lost their job have health care. Americans do not. Cobra can cost $800-1000 per person.

        1. COBRA costs the actual amount of the group coverage (usually plus 2%). MOST people don’t realize how much their employer contributes to their insurance.

          I’m in HR. Our single coverage is $1,100, family is $3,200. THAT is what someone would have to pay if they elected COBRA. Health care costs are so out of line that COBRA doesn’t even matter anymore. Who can afford it?

  10. Oregon’s Unemployment computer system is still running on COBOL. They are having a really hard time updating the system to handle the expansion. Who the heck knows how to program COBOL? Anyway, it’s still a mess here. Gig workers have to call and the wait time is still over 2 hours. Lots of people are still not getting assistance.

    1. I do! And I would be happy to help them overhaul it.

      Isn’t kind of poetic that I’m unemployed right now?

    2. Good thing that sooner or later, the unemployed applying will get through and eventually get their benefits. Just got to get through the initial bottleneck.

      $648/week in UB in Oregon is great! Then add another $600/week and it’s really a generous UB program.

      1. in Nevada there had been people who havent been paid in 5 weeks. thats adding on to the new claims that come in. because of the low unemployment they completely took $$$ away from the websites and call centers for unemployment and folks here are getting desperate

  11. Wow fascinating data! Thanks for compiling all that info. I had a project once fact checking unemployment benefit amounts by state so I know how time consuming that can be.

    I’m shocked at where California is relative to the other states. I totally expected to see it in the top 10 but it didn’t even make the top 25!

    I like that some states offer extra payouts for those with dependents. Seems like a no brainer to have that built in. I’m surprised more states don’t offer that especially since it should be pretty easy for the government to verify based on tax return filings. At least the benefits are getting boosted for all states by the Fed. Having 50m unemployed by the end of summer sure wouldn’t be good. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.

  12. nimbus couzin

    Slight nit-pick. You use 4 weeks/month for your spreadsheet. As someone who has a fair amount of business experience, that drives me crazy. It is extremely close to 4.3 weeks/month on average, making your monthly numbers considerably lower than reality. But thanks for digging out the numbers. I’m in Illinois, and will be unemployed in less than four weeks, so I’ll get to experience the system for the first time in my life. Cheers,

    1. No problem on the nit-picking. The way unemployment works with many states is that you can file every two weeks for one check or every week for one check. So in a month, even if you can file every week and get an unemployment benefits check every week, at most, you can still only get four unemployment checks a week.

  13. Jeffrey Bond

    Sam – I live in North Carolina and do not see my state on either list. I expect the unemployment benefit to be quite low for NC, but would be interested to see where we stand.

    1. Hi Jeffrey, it’s there and it is quite low at $350/week. Further, the state only provides for 12 weeks of unemployment usually. However, the CARES Act should change this as they subsidize the state on benefits until the end of the year.

  14. Unfortunately not everyone will get the 600/week . I read an article that in tx you have to be unemployed due to covid no earlier than Jan 27. Even though everyone is now stuck in this recession! Plus I wouldn’t count out that cares runs out of money and doesn’t pay everybody that qualifies, similar to small biz loan.

        1. As of right now I get the TX max which covers everything, but still looking for a job. Been out of workforce since Dec. TX gets it bi weekly.

      1. Wow, I haven’t gotten it and I’ve been getting benefits since Jan. Filed in December, and was laid off in November. I”ll try and give them a call

  15. I’m not sure about other states, but in Pennsylvania FICA taxes (7.65%) and State taxes (3.07%) are not taken out. When that is taken into account the maximum monthly benefit of $4,688 is actually the equivalent of $5,190 of regular W2 income. So it is actually a better deal than most people think.

  16. Long time reader, first time poster. Thanks for turning me onto Personal Capital. However I’ve reread your charts multiple times and I don’t see our state of North Carolina listed. I was expecting to see them somewhere in the middle of the pack on the bottom 25 states but that’s my guess.

  17. I’m in Pa and know a few people making way more $ with unemployment (hairdresser, mechanic, day care teachers assistant)
    One of them still lives with his parents and virtually has no bills to pay!

  18. the big problem is that these systems of unemployment were so stripped bare by individual states that now they are understaffed and the websites are outdated. i know people in Nevada that havent gotten paid since they have been laid off a month ago. the amounts dont matter if no one is getting $$$

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