How far do jobless benefits go?

California has a low unemployment tax rate for businesses, usually maxing out around $400 per worker per year. That makes jobless benefits more regressive and volatile than many other states, according to a recent Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research report

For workers, that means less cash in hand. California’s standard unemployment benefits range from $40-450 a week, which tend to cover around 45% of earnings prior to losing a job and can be eaten up quickly by housing and other necessities. The maximum $450 weekly benefit in California is significantly higher than states such as Arizona ($240) and Tennessee ($275), but much lower than locales like Washington ($749) and Minnesota ($717). 

Because of the mismatch between benefits and costs of living in California, there’s been more emphasis during the pandemic on the federal government’s temporary $600-a-week and $300-a-week unemployment supplements. When those programs expired, some people out of work had to make impossible decisions about whether to pay rent, buy food or sacrifice their life’s savings.