What is unemployment insurance?

Unemployment insurance offers weekly checks to recently unemployed people for up to 26 weeks. It’s an “earned benefit,” which means it’s only available to people who have paid into the system through their taxes. The program is run independently by every state, so the experience people have with it can vary dramatically based on where they live (including the amount of money they can get, how long they can get it for, and even the experience of applying for benefits).

The amount of money a person gets depends on their previous income. On average, UI benefits make up for about half of the worker’s wages (up to a maximum amount). The exact percentage and number of weeks a person can receive benefits vary by state, but range from an average weekly benefit of $101 to $531 and a maximum duration of 12 to 30 weeks.

Unemployment insurance also includes a program called Short-Time Compensation, otherwise known as work sharing. Work sharing programs encourage employers to reduce hours instead of laying off staff, and employees are compensated for the wages from those lost hours through unemployment benefits. Workers get to keep their jobs, benefits, and incomes, while employers keep their skilled workforce and don’t incur the costs of rehiring when the economy picks back up again. Currently, 27 states and D.C. allow employers to enter into work sharing agreements with the government.