The COVID-19 pandemic set off an economic crisis that pushed the U.S. unemployment rate to levels that rivaled the highs of the Great Depression. Fortunately, the recovery has been relatively rapid, and weekly initial unemployment claims in the United States have been below half a million since early May 2021. The last time they were below that threshold was in March 2020, when President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for COVID-19.
Whether brought about by a pandemic or not, unemployment is never desirable. However, in some states, conditions are more favorable for those who are out of work than in others. The quality of the labor market and strength of the social safety net, as well as the current speed of labor market recovery, are all factors that vary from state to state.
Based on an index of these factors, California ranks as the sixth worst place to be unemployed. Due in part to expanded eligibility during the pandemic, the share of the unemployed population receiving benefits in California increased from 40.2% in 2019 to 95.6% in 2020. Meanwhile, the national 2020 recipiency rate stands at 77.6%, up from 27.7% the previous year. It is important to note that in some states, perhaps also due to expanded eligibility, the average number of people who received UI benefits in 2020 exceeds the average number of people who were unemployed over the course of the year.
The average weekly unemployment benefit payout in California — not including the additional federal benefits that were added during the pandemic — totaled $308 in 2020, enough to cover 34.3% of the average weekly working wage in the state. For context, the average payout nationwide was $321 per week in 2020, or 38.3% of the average weekly wage.
Over the course of the past year, the job market has been gaining momentum and overall employment nationwide climbed 13.4% between April 2020 and April 2021. In California, job gains were slower, as overall employment increased by 11.2% over the same period. Currently, the monthly jobless rate in California stands at 8.3%, higher than the April 2021 national unemployment rate of 6.1%.
The index used to create this ranking incorporates four measures: unemployment benefit recipiency (the share of unemployed receiving UI), average weekly unemployment payments as a share of average wages, one-year employment growth, and the April unemployment rate. All data used in this ranking is from the U.S. Department of Labor. These are the best and worst states to be unemployed.
|Rank||State||Avg. share of employed pop. with unemployment benefits; 2020 (%)||Avg. weekly benefit payout||April 2021 unemployment (%)||1-yr. employment growth (%)|