North Carolinians who are furloughed or become jobless in 2021 will receive an extra four weeks of regular state unemployment benefits because of a state law passed in July 2013.
The maximum number of unemployment insurance benefit weeks rises from 12 to 16 because of the sliding scale put in place by a Republican legislative supermajority.
North Carolina is tied with Florida with the lowest maximum number of UI weeks in the country at 12.
The maximum regular state weekly benefit is $350, with the average paid weekly benefit is $278. There is no sliding scale for the weekly benefit, which was reduced from $535 also in July 2013.
The sliding scale based on unemployment rates runs from 12 weeks — which the state has been at since July 2013 — up to a maximum of 20 weeks. Before the law was passed in July 2013, North Carolinians received a maximum of 26 weeks — currently the benefit maximum for 44 states.
The sliding scale based on jobless rates is: maximum of 13 weeks at 5.6% to 6%; 14 weeks at 6.1% to 6.5%; 15 weeks at 6.6% to 7%; 16 weeks at 7.1% to 7.5%; 17 weeks at 7.6% to 8%; 18 weeks at 8.1% to 8.5%; 19 weeks at 8.6% to 9%; and 20 weeks at 9.1% and higher.
The scale is adjusted just twice a year, in January and July. The number of weeks is dependent on the average unemployment rate from July through September for the January adjustment and for January through March for the July adjustment.
That meant the 12.9% unemployment rate for April and 12.8% for May were not factored into the adjustment for January.
The jobless rates were 8.5% in July, 6.5% in August and 7.3% in September for an average of 7.4%, which translates into 16 weeks.
"The odds are good that the maximum duration will rise come on Jan. 1," said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies Ltd., a Chapel Hill research company specializing in economic and social policy.
The increase to 16 weeks comes as a silver lining for North Carolinians since two more federal unemployment benefit program — pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC) and pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) — are scheduled to expire Dec. 26.
As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, the PEUC program has paid $609.3 million in benefits to North Carolinians since April, while the PUA program has paid $579.8 million.
The expirations of the two federal program "will reduce the number of people eligible for unemployment insurance compensation and reduce the overall number of weeks available to people who do qualify," Quinterno said.
The largest federal UI program, known as federal pandemic unemployment compensation, is the one that paid a $600 weekly federal supplement from April until Congress allowed it to expire July 26. It has paid $4.79 billion to date.
By comparison, regular state UI payments are at $1.73 billion as of 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The state had $3.85 billion in the state UI Trust Fund in mid-March. State legislators said Sept. 2 that between $2.9 billion and $3 billion remained in the fund at that time. The third COVID-19 relief bill added $87 million.
A temporary $50 increase in regular state UI payments started being paid Saturday. The N.C. Division of Employment Security has estimated that between 15% and 20% of current UI claimants will be eligible for the extra $50.
The average approved N.C. unemployment claimant currently receives $278 a week in regular state benefits. The extra $50 a week would boost the payment by 18%.
About 1.33 million North Carolinians have filed a UI claim since the brunt of the pandemic began to be experienced in mid-March.
Many people have had to file a second initial claim to begin receiving federal benefits. There have been 2.6 million in overall claims.
About 30.7% of the 4.31 million North Carolinians considered part of the state’s workforce as of mid-August have filed a state or federal unemployment claim.
No safety net
Quinterno said the fact that 83,000 North Carolinians rejoined the workforce during September provides mixed economic signals.
"With more job seekers, there also were more unemployed people," Quinterno said. "On the one hand, that could be seen as a positive sign, to the extent that people who had stopped looking earlier in the cycle felt willing to try again.
"On the other hand, it could be a negative sign, to the extent that furloughed workers realized their jobs aren't coming back and are starting over," he said.
Quinterno cautioned that the September employment numbers were logged before the recent spike in statewide COVID-19 cases. The employment data is collected during the week where the 12th of a month falls, so it was Sept. 6-12.
"The virus is what is driving the labor market, and a surge could slow down growth even more if people voluntarily limit their activities or if additional public health restrictions prove necessary," Quinterno said. "The situation could worsen in a hurry, and there currently is no governmental support — such as enhanced unemployment insurance, the (federal) Paycheck Protection Program or economic impact payments — to blunt any declines."
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