Too Many Low-Wage Workers are Ineligible for UI Benefits

Mar 11, 2013

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Lavanya Mohan

Last month, North Carolina enacted a law that cuts benefits for jobless workers by reducing the maximum number of weeks for benefits and capping the maximum weekly unemployment insurance (UI) benefit. As it is, North Carolina has the second highest earnings qualification in the nation, requiring claimants to have earned at least $4,706 of base wages over two quarters in a year to receive UI benefits. As a result of these cuts, 170,000 unemployed workers will lose federal and state unemployment benefits.

Even before these cuts, North Carolina had among the most restrictive UI programs in the nation.  Each state sets its own unemployment benefits standards, most requiring UI applicants to earn a minimum amount and work a minimum number of hours in a calendar quarter or year. A recent study by Policy Matters Ohio shows that several states, including North Carolina, Arkansas and Pennsylvania, have raised earning requirements to receive UI benefits.  Such high monetary eligibility standards make it harder for low-income jobless workers, who already have the hardest time making ends meet, to receive UI benefits.  They join states such as Washington and Ohio, which already had very high earnings requirements.  

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