How Do You Calculate Your Unemployment Benefits?

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  • How do you calculate your unemployment benefits? Do you know how much this benefit is worth if you’re unemployed? Find out how your benefits are determined.
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How Do You Calculate Your Unemployment Benefits?

The answer is, it's complicated, because the process of calculating unemployment benefits varies by state.

How the Process Works

States calculate the amount of money you are entitled to by reviewing your past earning history over a set lookback period in which you earned wages. The exact period examined varies by state. Some states, such as California, use the highest-earning quarter you had out of the previous four quarters. Colorado uses two quarters to compute your benefit amount, while the weekly benefit in Connecticut is a set fraction of the income you earned during the lookback period in the year before you filed for unemployment.

You can calculate your likely benefits by looking up your state’s formula and applying it to your paycheck records from the target period. In Illinois, for example, where benefits are set at 47% of your earnings during the two highest quarters in your earning period, you can look up the numbers in your own paystub file and apply the percentage to get your potential weekly award total.

Some states include an extra allowance for dependents you may have living with you, so your actual benefit might not be exactly what you figured it would be. Likewise, most states have minimum and maximum benefit amounts. If your income during the lookback period was too low to reach the minimum weekly benefit, or if your income was high enough to exceed the maximum, then your final amount could be adjusted accordingly.

Unemployment Benefits for Jobless Workers

Unemployment insurance is an important benefit that can help keep workers afloat between paying jobs. With the pandemic-related shutdowns of 2020, tens of millions of Americans had to rely on unemployment to make ends meet, many for the first time. If you are thinking about applying for unemployment for the first time, it can be helpful to know in advance what your benefit amount is likely to be. Fortunately, there is a formula most states use to establish your weekly benefit award.