At the height of the jobs crisis, unemployment benefits lasted as long as 99 weeks in many states. Today, they last less than half that long in many states. The situation in Michigan, where unemployed workers will soon qualify for a maximum of about 49 weeks of benefits, helps explain the three major factors behind the reduction. (See related article. )
Unemployment rates are falling: The federal government offers four tiers of benefits based on a state’s unemployment rate — the higher the rate, the more weeks a state can receive. New Labor Department data this week showed Michigan’s three-month-average unemployment rate under 9%, meaning it no longer qualifies for the top tier of benefits.
Federal programs are
growing more restrictive: Congress has cut back the available federal benefits and made it harder for states to qualify. A year ago, a state needed an unemployment rate of 8.5% to qualify for all four tiers of federal benefits, which together lasted 63 weeks. Today, the bar has been raised to 9%, and the benefits last at most 47 weeks. Additionally, a separate federal program known as “Extended Benefits” has all but disappeared.
States are cutting their programs: During the recession, Michigan, like most states, offered 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits. Since 2011, it has offered just 20 weeks. The cuts also lead to a proportional reduction in federal benefits.