Learn About Unemployment in the United States

Learn How To Get UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE & Receive Text Alerts


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According to the definition of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), unemployment represents the number of capable workers who are not currently employed, but are actively seeking a job. However, disabled individuals, retirees, and able workers who are not currently looking for employment (students or individuals taking care of their child) are not considered part of the workforce. The DOL Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the rate of unemployment in the U.S. on a monthly basis by dividing the number of unemployed workers with the total number of labor force participants in a given area. To obtain the data, the BLS conducts surveys on a sample number of households, businesses and government agencies.

To support the unemployed, the U.S. government provides unemployment insurance benefits through the federal Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. The UI program is administered on a state level by specific agencies within certain states. For example, the Employment Development Department (EDD) is the agency that provides unemployment insurance coverage to California residents. However, prior to applying for unemployment insurance benefits, you must ensure that you meet your state’s eligibility requirements.

Learn more about unemployment in the U.S. and how to submit an unemployment claim for UI benefits by reading the following chapters:

  • What is unemployment?
  • The United States’ Unemployment Insurance program
  • How to submit an unemployment claim in the U.S.
  • The Employment Development Department

What is unemployment?

The U.S. labor department utilizes several basic concepts to define unemployment. Able workers with jobs are considered to be employed, whereas individuals who are available for work, and who have been actively seeking a job in the last four weeks are unemployed. Both groups constitute the U.S. labor force. The remaining members of the population are excluded from the labor force. Prisoners, residents of medical institutions and military members are not included in the unemployment survey.

The DOL recognizes several types of unemployment:

  • Frictional unemployment takes into account the time period during which a worker is transitioning between jobs.
  • Cyclical unemployment occurs when the economy cannot provide employment to all job seekers.
  • Structural unemployment is an effect of the mismatch between the skills demanded by the economy and the skills offered by the unemployed.

Learn About About the United States’ Unemployment Insurance Program

To address the issue of unemployment, the United States government has instituted the Unemployment Insurance benefits program. Apart from paying monthly paychecks to former workers, the UI program also provides resources for various job education and training opportunities, as well as self-employment assistance.

The U.S. Unemployment Insurance program was established with the passing of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA), which authorized the Internal Revenue Service to gather employer taxes for the program’s funding purposes. These funds are then used to manage the program across the U.S. and to provide former workers with Unemployment Insurance benefits in the amount of 40 to 50 percent of their previous monthly wages.

The U.S. Department of Labor sets the general program guidelines. However, state agencies determine the final parameters of the program, such as the requirements for participation and the amount of payable benefits. In general, the unemployment claim submitted by former employees has a validity period of six months, but certain states may also prolong this period and offer extended and emergency benefits as well.

Learn How to Submit an Unemployment Claim in the U.S.

Prior to applying for unemployment insurance benefits in the United States, you must meet the requirements of the UI agency in the state where you were employed. The general eligibility criteria that apply throughout every state requires you to:

  • Lose your job through no fault of your own, such as lack of available work.
  • Meet the state requirements for time worked or paychecks collected.
  • Fulfill additional requirements set forth by the state where you are applying.

Different state Unemployment Insurance programs also offer different methods to submit an unemployment claim. Depending on your state’s policy, you can generally apply in person, by phone or via the internet. During the application procedure, a government official will ask you to provide extensive information about your former work. You must provide complete information, otherwise, your unemployment insurance coverage may be delayed.

Learn About the Employment Development Department

Each U.S. state provides the Unemployment Insurance benefits to UI beneficiaries through a specific state organization. The Employment Development Department (EDD) is California’s workforce agency that implements the Unemployment Insurance program. Apart from processing unemployment insurance coverage petitions, the department offers many other EDD unemployment programs that increase the employability of CA workers. For instance, through the EED Workforce Services Branch, state employers can seek assistance to find adequate workers. Job seekers, on the other hand, can participate in various job training programs that prepare unemployed workers for their future in the California labor force.

The Employment Development Department lists all EDD unemployment services through the CalJOBS website, which is the official online resource for job seekers and employers in the state. The CalJOBS webpage allows you to search for open job postings via the internet, upload your curriculum vitae, and access several types of career resources. Employers can also use the site to peruse the database of qualified workers and find an employee that fits their needs.

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