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The Worst States to Be Unemployed

Alexander E.M. Hess, Samuel Weigley and Michael B. Sauter

As a result of the sequester, which went into effect in early 2013 to help cut the U.S. budget deficit, a federal program intended to lengthen the amount of time jobless residents can receive unemployment benefits will be substantially reduced. Cutting Emergency Unemployment Compensation will mean an end to an important source of income for many out-of-work Americans.

Unemployment rates have fallen nationwide, but there are still nearly 12 million active job seekers who cannot find work. While unemployment is rarely a favorable situation, in certain parts of the country, the unemployed can expect to find a job more more easily because of a favorable job market or at least receive good benefits. In other areas, job growth is slow, competition is high, and benefits are relatively poor.

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Based on unemployment insurance benefits data and employment statistics from the Department of Labor, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states where residents had the worst chances of finding work and also received the worst benefits while they were looking for it.

Click here to see the worst states to be unemployed

Click here to see the best states to be unemployed

One of the biggest indicators of how difficult it is to find work is the unemployment rate. A low jobless rate in a given state usually means the area’s economy is doing relatively well, competition is limited, and workers have the skills necessary to qualify for available jobs. In all of the best states to be unemployed, the unemployment rate was well below the national rate of 7.6% for June. In North Dakota, one of the best states to be unemployed, just 3.1% of the workforce did not have a job.

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In the worst states to be unemployed, job growth was relatively slow, and new opportunities to work took longer to materialize. In most of the these states, the number of nonfarm jobs grew slower than the 1.3% national rate between June 2012 and June 2013. In three of these states -- Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois -- the total number of jobs grew by less than 1%.

Not surprisingly, it is far better to be unemployed in a state with healthy job growth. According to Rebecca Dixon, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, “in some of these states, people go back to work really quickly.”

However, even if employers are hiring and local economies are doing well, workers may still need time to find a job. This may mean relying on unemployment insurance benefits while looking for work. Nationally, unemployment benefits covered an average of 33% of the average weekly wages in the area. In six of the best states to be unemployed, this figure, known as the replacement rate, was more than 40% of average wages, with Hawaii covering a nation-leading 53%.

Dixon pointed out that a high replacement rate is not enough on its own to make benefits available to the unemployed. “A state can have a great program, but if they make it really, really hard for people to qualify for benefits, then it’s just a great program sitting there that no one can use,” said Dixon.

Known as the recipiency rate, just 45% of all unemployed workers received such benefits over the 12 months going through the first quarter of 2013. In five of the better states to be unemployed, a higher percentage of jobless residents received these benefits. In some of the worst states to be unemployed, these rates were even lower. In Louisiana and Tennessee, the two worst states to be unemployed, just 30% of unemployed workers received these benefits.

To determine the worst states to be unemployed, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed figures published by the Department of Labor’s Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The recipiency rate and recovery rate from the OUI are for the 12 months running through the end of the first quarter of 2013. Unemployment rate from the BLS are for June 2013, with job growth numbers reflecting changes in the nonfarm payrolls measure from the year before. The final rank reflects a composite score of these four measures weighted equally. Data on change in Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits comes from NELP. Dixon noted that since the data was put together, North Carolina has made changes in its UI program to cut weekly benefits. Those changes are not reflected in our data.

These are the worst states to be unemployed.

10. Mississippi
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 37% (18th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 28.8% (10th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.0% (3rd highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 2.5% (5th highest)

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Unemployment insurance is not very generous in Mississippi when compared to most other states. The average weekly benefit was just $193, making Mississippi the only state to offer an average of less than $200. This only comprised 28.8% of weekly wages, lower than all but nine other states. In addition to having limited unemployment insurance benefits, Mississippi is struggling with high unemployment, which at 9% as of June 2013 was higher than every state except Nevada and Illinois. Between June 2012 and June 2013, nonfarm employment rose by just 0.3%, lower than all but three other states, while manufacturing, one of the state’s largest industries by employment shed jobs.

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9. Kentucky
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 38% (19th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 38.2% (17th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.4% (12th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 0.8% (12th lowest)

In June 2012, Kentucky had an unemployment rate of 8.3%, barely above the national rate of 8.2%. The state also had a 1.9% increase in nonfarm employment from the year before, slightly faster than the national pace. But as of June 2013, job growth had slowed to just 0.8% over the year before. The unemployment rate was also higher, at 8.4%, than in the year before, even as the national rate fell to 7.6%. The job market has been especially difficult for workers in eastern Kentucky, where 4,000 mining jobs have been lost, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Senator Mitch McConnell recently published an editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal critiquing President Obama’s environmental policy as “a war on Kentucky jobs.”

8. Florida
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 32% (8th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 28.5% (8th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.1% (22nd highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 1.7% (14th highest)

The $232 that Florida offers in average weekly unemployment benefits is lower than all but four other states. This average benefit comes out to just 28.5% of weekly wages, lower than all but a few other states. For a while, Florida made it more difficult than in other states to collect these benefits. The state enacted a law in 2011 that required unemployment recipients to take math, reading and research tests before receiving benefits. However, the U.S. Department of Labor nixed the plan in April over concerns that it may violate civil rights laws for the disabled and those for whom English is not their first language. The good news for those still out of work is that the unemployment rate, while one of the highest in the nation at the height of the economic downturn, now has fallen below the national rate.

7. Ohio
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 37% (18th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 37.2% (20th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.2% (21st highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 0.3% (4th lowest)

Between June of 2012 and 2013, the number of nonfarm jobs in Ohio rose by just 0.3%. The state’s unemployment rate also barely budged, falling from just 7.3% to 7.2%, higher than the majority of states, although below the national rate of 7.6%. Out-of-work individuals, on average, received unemployment insurance benefits covering 37.2% of the state’s average weekly wage, more than the 33% nationwide. But just 37% of all unemployed workers actually were able to receive these benefits, versus 45% across the country. Recently, two neighboring states, Indiana and Michigan, enacted “right to work” laws, which are designed to attract employers and prohibit unions from collecting payments by non-members at companies in which they operate. While such a law has not been passed in Ohio, unions remain concerned the issue could be brought up in their state.

6. Indiana
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 35% (12th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 34.3% (22nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.4% (12th highest)
> 1 yr. job growth: 1.4% (23rd highest)

In Indiana, the unemployed accounted for 8.4% of the labor force as of June, more than the 7.6% nationwide and unchanged from the year before. Only 35% of unemployed workers received benefits during the 12 months ending with the first quarter of 2013, versus 45% across the nation. Job growth also has slowed considerably, from 2.5% between June 2011 and June 2012, then the fourth highest rate in the nation, to 1.4% between June 2012 and June 2013. But not all job news out of the state is negative. Almost all the state’s job growth in June came from the manufacturing industry, according to the Indiana Department of Workplace Development. Indiana has a proportionally higher number of manufacturing jobs than any other state.

5. Arizona
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 33% (9th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 24.9% (2nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.0% (15th highest)
> 1 yr. job growth: 2.0% (7th highest)

Arizona experienced 2% employment growth over the 12 months ending in June, a faster pace than all but a half dozen states. However, skilled job opportunities may be scarce, with three-quarters of all job openings in Arizona requiring only a high school diploma or less. The state also was unable to significantly reduce unemployment during the past year. From June 2012 to June 2013, the unemployment rate fell just 0.4 percentage points from 8.4% to 8.0%. Just one-third of jobless workers received unemployment insurance benefits during the 12 months ending with the first quarter of 2013, well below the 45% of the unemployed nationwide. Also, the average weekly benefit received was just $214, or less than 25% of the average weekly wage in the state, worse than in any other state except Louisiana.

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4. Alabama
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 32% (8th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 26.2% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (18th lowest)
> 1 yr. job growth: 1.2% (22nd lowest)

Alabama’s unemployment rate rate fell from 7.6% in June 2012 to 6.5% in June 2013. But despite these improvements, being unemployed likely is still very difficult for Alabama workers. Just 32% of unemployed job seekers received unemployment benefits, with these payments averaging just 26.2% of the average weekly wage, both among the lowest figures in the nation. Governor Robert Bentley has made reducing joblessness in the state a top priority and has pledged not to take any salary until the state’s unemployment rate reaches 5.2%.

3. Illinois
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 43% (25th highest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 32.1% (16th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.2% (2nd highest)
> 1 yr. job growth: 0.8% (12th lowest)

While the $987 in average weekly wages in Illinois was higher than all but six other states, the average unemployment benefit of about $317 was just the 17th highest in the nation. Illinois has struggled with job growth as well, with the number of nonfarm jobs growing just 0.8% between June 2012 and June 2013, well below the 1.7% growth across the country. The number of jobs in both the public sector and manufacturing industry, which both have a sizable presence in the state, actually decreased during that time. The Illinois unemployment rate of 9.2% in June was higher than that of any other state except for Nevada.

2. Louisiana
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 30% (tied-5th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 24.6% (the lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.0% (25th lowest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 1.1% (19th lowest)

Jobless individuals in Louisiana should not expect generous unemployment insurance benefits. The average weekly payout in the state for the year ending in first quarter of 2013 was just $201, lower than any other state except for Mississippi. When taken as a percentage of the average weekly wage, Louisiana’s benefits become the stingiest in the country, paying out less than 25% of the average. Fortunately for those out of work, the unemployment rate was 7.0% as of June 2013, below the national rate, indicating less competition for jobs. However, the state is one of a minority where the unemployment rate actually rose from the previous year.

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1. Tennessee
> Pct. unemployed getting benefits: 30% (tied-5th lowest)
> Pct. average weekly wage covered: 28.6% (9th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.5% (10th highest)
> 1-yr. job growth: 1.2% (22nd lowest)

Tennessee is the worst state in the country to be unemployed. The average weekly unemployment insurance payout totaled just 28.6% of the average weekly wage, lower than all but eight other states. Meanwhile, just 30% of the unemployed received those benefits, also among the lowest in the country.The state enacted a new law in 2012 that required the unemployed to make “a reasonable effort to secure work” by demonstrating they have reached out to at least three employers per week. In addition, the law requires people receiving benefits to take any job offering 100% of prior wages in the first 13 weeks. After this, to continue receiving benefits they may not turn down any job offering 75% of past wages. By the 38th week of unemployment, this standard falls to 65% of past wages. The state’s unemployment rate of 8.5% in June 2013 was the 10th highest in the country and up from 8.2% in June 2012, despite a decline across the country.

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