Applying for Unemployment Insurance Benefits As an Older Worker

In this article...
  • Unemployment benefits can ease the financial strain of job loss for older Americans. Find out how to apply for benefits at your state unemployment office.

Job loss is a stressful experience for all workers, but it can be even more overwhelming if you’re an older adult.

Whether you’ve lost your job due to budget cuts, restructuring or other factors beyond your control, you may be able to ease some of the financial strain by filing a benefit claim with your state unemployment office.

Older Adults in the Workplace

As baby boomers age and remain in the labor force, the number of workers over the age of 55 is projected to increase at a faster than average rate from 2014 to 2024. In fact, by 2024, nearly 25% of the labor force is expected to be over the age of 55.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this increase is due to a variety of factors:

  • Longer life expectancy
  • Increase in Social Security retirement age
  • Fewer retirement plans offered by employers
  • Desire to maintain health care coverage

Importance of Unemployment Insurance for Seniors

Because many seniors want or need to remain in the workforce, unemployment can be a major source of financial stress for those in their 40s and 50s and nearing retirement.

A study by the Federal Reserve shows that older adults who lose their jobs may have difficulty covering living expenses and meet their short-term financial needs in a number of ways. These could include:

  • Filing for unemployment insurance
  • Increasing credit card debt
  • Borrowing from family
  • Postponing medical care
  • Selling possessions
  • Using retirement savings or home equity

How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits

The U.S. Department of Labor oversees the unemployment insurance program, which is a federal-state initiative. Each state has its own unemployment agency administering benefits.

If you’re unemployed and worked in the past year, you may be eligible to file an unemployment claim and receive temporary income while you look for new work. In 2018, 37% of unemployed workers over the age of 55 applied for unemployment insurance. Just over 29% received benefits.

In most states, you’re eligible if:

  • You’re unemployed because of lack of available work at your last job through no fault of your own
  • You meet state requirements for time worked and wages earned during a specified period

Contact your state’s unemployment office for full eligibility requirements and application forms. To file a claim, you need to have detailed information about your previous jobs, including contact information and dates of employment.

When to File for Unemployment

File a claim as soon as you can after losing your job as it can take two to three weeks for the application to be processed and for you to receive the first check.

How Much Can I Receive?

Individual states determine the benefit amount and length of time benefits are received. Generally, benefits are calculated based on your earnings for the last 52 weeks, up to a maximum amount. You must also file regular weekly or bi-weekly claims to report any income earned, job offers and job refusals to confirm your continued eligibility.

For the year ending March 31, 2020, the average weekly benefit was $372.97 and the average duration of the benefits was 12.3 weeks.

Other Resources for Older Job Seekers

Unemployment insurance benefits provide temporary income while you look for a new job. Here are some federal government resources to help make your job search easier.

Career One Stop

This comprehensive online resource brings together information for workers at any stage of their career.

Find tips on career planning, job hunting and interviewing. There are also links to state job banks.

American Job Centers

Visit an American Job Center in person for career counseling, training referrals, job searches and other employment-related guidance. There are nearly 2,400 centers across the country. Find one near you.

U.S. Department of Labor Toll-Free Line

Workers with questions about job loss, unemployment benefits and job training can call the toll-free information line at 1-877-US-2JOBS.