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The 10 Worst States in Which to Lose Your Job

The recession has hurt the whole country, but not equally -- here are the worst states you can live in when a pink slip arrives.

The recession has hurt the whole country, but not equally. For example, the unemployment rate in North Dakota, a state with its own bank, which helped insulate it from the financial crash, stands at just 3.6 percent, while Nevada's rate last month was 13.2 percent.

Obviously, it's much harder to find a job in places where unemployment is high and there are lots of other people vying for open positions than it is in a tight job market. But looking at the top-line unemployment rate alone doesn't tell the full story of what it's like to be jobless in any given part of the country. While being unemployed sucks for everyone, the benefits available to keep the unemployed afloat vary significantly from state to state.

We decided to dig into state-level data and try to flesh out which are the very worst states in which to lose one's job. We looked at several factors.

It's not just the rate of unemployment that matters, but the length of time people are unemployed – long-term unemployment comes with unique problems that people who are jobless for a brief period don't experience.

Nationwide, the average length of unemployment stands at 39 weeks, shattering the previous record of 23 weeks set in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, on the state level, the most recent data are from 2009. But we used the median length of joblessness that year to give a relative sense of how long it takes to find a job in various states.

We also looked at underemployment– people who aren't counted in the headline numbers. These include those who are working a part-time job because they can't find a full-time gig, and others who have been out of work for so long that they've given up the search.

On the benefits side, states have a lot of leeway in how they administer their unemployment insurance programs. The policies set in state houses determine who is eligible for unemployment insurance, how much of their salaries are covered and how long they're eligible to receive benefits.

We looked at the following info:

  • The percentage of unemployed workers receiving benefits provides a rough measure of how restrictive a state's eligibility requirements are. This measure isn't perfect, because there are various reasons people don't receive benefits for which they're eligible, but it gives us a good sense of how restrictive the requirements are. In the United States (in the second quarter of 2008), 37 percent of jobless workers received unemployment benefits – so we looked at how states stacked up against the national average. 

  • The average weekly check received by unemployed people varies from state to state, as does the share of their working incomes those benefits represent. Among developed countries, the US offers some of the stingiest unemployment benefits around, which is why conservative spin that the jobless are living it up on their unemployment insurance instead of trying to find work is so ludicrous (though there is evidence that this is actually true in places like Scandinavia, where people who lose their jobs still take in 70 percent or more of their income). In 2008, those unemployed Americans who qualified for benefits got $293 per week, or about 35 percent of their lost income. We looked at how states compared with those nationwide numbers.

  • Congress has authorized extended unemployment benefits – totaling up to 99 weeks – during this recession. That's why people who have seen their benefits expire before finding a job have come to be known as “99ers.” But not every state with high unemployment offers 99 weeks of benefits. We looked at which ones don't.

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