February 20, 2017

NC Unemployment Benefits: Experts Say State Has Work to Do

Lose your job in the Tar Heel State and you have just 13 weeks to find a new one before your unemployment benefits run out.

On top of that the average weekly benefit is just $237, putting the state 46th in the country.

While the changes that brought this about were made in 2013, Patrick McHugh, economic analyst with the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center says the impact of the benefit reduction has compounded over the last three years.

“We’ve gone from a system that was designed to help you weather that storm and get back on your feet within a reasonable amount of time to a system that gives you very little time to find a new job, and will have you living below the poverty line during that period,” McHugh says.

Statewide, the unemployment rate stands at 5.5 percent, but that doesn’t account for workers who have given up finding work.

As of the third quarter of last year, 11 percent of jobless North Carolinians received unemployment, compared to 39 percent three years ago.

Supporters of the benefit reduction say it’s a way of making sure citizens don’t lose the incentive to find a new job.

McHugh says it’s important to note that unemployment is funded by payments made by state employers on their employees’ behalf over time.

He emphasizes it’s not a system based on “handouts” to people who don’t want to work.

“The benefits through the unemployment insurance system are really based upon the work that you have already done when you had a job,” McHugh says. “So this is really a system that’s designed to help folks that are actively contributing to the economy when they hit a rough spot in their lives and through no fault of their own, lose a job.”

In addition to the impact on individuals, McHugh says the state’s unemployment benefits don’t do enough to stabilize local economies impacted by large-scale layoffs.

Because the maximum number of weeks of unemployment is tied to the statewide unemployment rate, the system doesn’t account for parts of the state hit harder than others by economic downturns.

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