Unemployment Benefits Statistics

The current unemployment rate, as of February 2019, is 4 percent. When considering the unemployment rate by year, this is close to the lowest rate of unemployment the U.S. has seen since 1969, when rates reached as low as 3.4 percent.

Looking at the number of people who are unemployed, as well as the rate of benefits they receive, provides valuable insight into the current trends in the job market.

The unemployment rate by state varies, but overall, the U.S. is seeing some of its lowest rates of unemployment in nearly 50 years. As a result, the number of claimants filing for unemployment insurance (UI) is also lower now than it has been in the past. Below, learn more about the current state of unemployment in the U.S., including historical trends, how the rates of unemployment vary by state and the characteristics of unemployed workers today.

Current Unemployment Rate and Historical Trends

Looking at the unemployment rate history shows general trends in job growth as well as periods of economic downturn. The U.S. has been experiencing a period of economic growth for roughly the past decade following the 2008 recession. So far in 2018, the unemployment rate has dropped from 4.1 percent in January to 3.7 percent in September according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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Unemployment statistics show that the rate has generally been dropping since October 2009, when the U.S. reached the highest unemployment rates it had seen since 1983 (10.0 percent). From 2008 through 2018, the unemployment rate has fluctuated as follows:

  • 2008: 5.8 percent
  • 2009: 9.3 percent
  • 2010: 9.6 percent
  • 2011: 8.9 percent
  • 2012: 8.1 percent
  • 2013: 7.4 percent
  • 2014: 6.2 percent
  • 2015: 5.3 percent
  • 2016: 4.9 percent
  • 2017: 4.4 percent
  • 2018: 3.9 percent (as of September)

UI Benefit Claimants by State

When looking at the current unemployment rate by state, some states have higher rates of unemployment than others, and therefore have a greater number of claimants applying for UI. According to data from the BLS, the states with the highest rates of unemployment as of September 2018 are as follows:

  1. Alaska:5 percent unemployed
  2. District of Columbia: 5.7 percent unemployed
  3. West Virginia: 5.2 percent unemployed
  4. Louisiana:0 percent unemployed
  5. Mississippi: 4.8 percent unemployed
  6. Arizona:7 percent unemployed
  7. New Mexico: 4.6 percent unemployed
  8. Ohio: 6 percent unemployed
  9. Nevada:5 percent unemployed
  10. Kentucky:5 percent unemployed

Note that the states listed above do not necessarily have the highest number of UI benefit claimants even though they have the highest rates of unemployment. In other words, the states with the highest number of people who went through the benefit claim process do not always have high rates of unemployment; they simply have more workers, and therefore more people eligible to make UI claims. With that in mind, the states with the greatest number of unemployment compensation claimants, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, are as follows as of August 2018:

  1. California: 303,121 claimants.
  2. New York: 137,979 claimants.
  3. Texas: 118,758 claimants.
  4. Pennsylvania: 113,135 claimants.
  5. New Jersey: 97,836 claimants.

Overall, there are 1,627,517 claimants nation-wide as of August 2018, which presents a 13.7 percent decrease compared to the previous year. Across the board, every state has seen fewer unemployment benefit claimants in 2018 compared to 2017. Wyoming saw the greatest decrease in claimants, with 38.6 percent fewer workers applying for unemployment in 2018 compared to 2017. Kansas came in second with 32 percent fewer applicants and Mississippi came in third with 31 percent fewer claimants. On the other hand, Rhode Island saw the least amount of change from 2017 to 2018, with only .8 percent fewer claims in 2018.

Characteristics of People Receiving UI Benefits

Looking at the demographics of those who receive unemployment insurance benefits provides valuable insight as well. As of August 2018, 47.9 percent of claimants were male and 52.3 percent were female (.8 percent of claims did not specify the petitioner’s gender). The percentage of UI claimants can also be broken down by age group as follows:

  • Younger than 24 years of age: 5.3 percent of claims
  • 25 to 34 years of age: 22.1 percent of claims
  • 35 to 44 years of age: 22.0 percent of claims
  • 45 to 54 years of age: 22.8 percent of claims
  • 55 to 64 years of age: 20.1 percent of claims
  • 65 years of age or older: 7.0 percent of claims

Note: .7 percent of claims did not specify the petitioner’s age.

As you can see, claims are distributed relatively evenly among workers 25 to 64 years of age, with far fewer claims being made by individuals who are younger than 24 or older than 65 years of age.

Unemployment Statistics by Industry

Looking at the current unemployment claims in different industries provides some valuable insight. However, for a complete picture, it is necessary to look at the number of individuals employed in each industry before considering the rate of unemployment in each sector. Regardless, some industries have a much higher number of unemployment claims than others. The industries with the highest number of claims are as follows as of August 2018:

  1. Administrative support, waste management and remedial services: 200,401 claimants (12.3 percent of all claims).
  2. Health care and social assistance: 159,708 claimants (9.8 percent of all claims).
  3. Manufacturing: 137,205 claimants (8.4 percent of all claims).
  4. Construction: 131,722 claimants (8.1 percent of all claims).
  5. Retail trade: 127,503 claimants (7.8 percent of all claims).

The utilities industry has the lowest number of claims, with 4,838 claimants representing just .3 percent of all claims, followed by mining with 6,652 claimants or .4 percent of all claims. When considering these unemployment statistics, keep in mind that industries employing a larger number of workers will naturally represent a higher percent of all claims, while smaller industries naturally have fewer claimants.

Trends in UI Benefit Payments by State

As of August 2018, the average unemployment compensation amount was $354.19 per week. As a general trend, benefit payments increase each year to meet the increasing cost of living. However, some states have higher benefit awards than others. The states with the five highest payment amounts, on average, are as follows as of August 2018:

  1. Massachusetts: $513.67
  2. Hawaii: $503.18
  3. Washington: $463.46
  4. Minnesota: $450.37
  5. Colorado: $432.69

States with the lowest UI benefit payments include Mississippi with $206.39 per week, Louisiana with $210.29 per week, Alabama with $221.99 per week, Arizona with $230.24 per week and Tennessee with $237.73 per week.

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