Personal Finance

The $600 unemployment boost is almost over. For some, aid will fall by 93%

Key Points
  • Unemployment benefits are set to fall 65% for the average person after July 31, when a $600-a-week boost expires. 
  • Some will see a much sharper drop. In Oklahoma, there would be a 93% drop to $44 a week, according to most recent Labor Department data. 
  • Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse over extending or replacing the $600 subsidy.
People wait for their numbers to be called at an unemployment event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on July 15, 2020.
Photo by Nick Oxford for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The $600 boost to weekly unemployment checks is coming to an end on Friday.

The household finances of more than 30 million Americans collecting jobless benefits are on the line

Many will see a severe drop in their weekly aid — some by more than 90%. 

Negotiations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have stalled, without a policy to extend or replace the payments in sight. 

AFL-CIO chief economist on significance of additional unemployment benefits
AFL-CIO chief economist on significance of additional unemployment benefits

93% drop

Americans started receiving an extra $600 a week in April as a result of a federal coronavirus relief law. 

The federal subsidy came on top of states' typical weekly payments. As a result, the average American got $921 a week in May, according to an analysis of Labor Department data.

But those checks will fall 65% after July 31, to about $321 a week.

The experience will vary broadly among states, which set their own benefit levels and vary greatly in generosity

In Oklahoma, which paid the lowest average weekly benefit in May, the average person will see a 93% reduction in jobless aid, to $44 a week. 

Oklahoma had a 6.6% unemployment rate in June, compared with the national rate of 11.1%.

There were about 118,000 people collecting jobless benefits in Oklahoma as of July 18, according to the Labor Department. (However, that total is almost certainly lower than in reality — the state is one of six that doesn't report the number of people collecting benefits through a new federal program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for the self-employed, gig and other workers previously ineligible for benefits.)

In Washington State, which paid the highest average weekly benefit, aid will drop by 55% a week to $497. 

Maximum and minimum benefits

States sets minimum benefit amounts for eligible recipients of jobless aid. This sets a floor in benefit levels. (States also cap benefits to the upside.)

Most states set minimums below $100 a week.

Hawaii's minimum, the lowest of any state, will be just $5 a week after the federal $600-a-week supplement expires.

Low minimums relative to other states don't necessary mean less generosity. They're partly attributable to looser eligibility rules, according to economists. Workers can qualify for benefits in Hawaii with a lower level of annual earnings than in other states, for example. Hawaii paid the second-highest average benefit in May, at $466 a week.

But, for workers collecting the minimum weekly check — or close to the minimum — losing the $600 a week may be an acute hardship. Such recipients may include part-timers who work few hours, for example.

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Meanwhile, Massachusetts pays unemployed workers up to $1,234 a week, the highest maximum benefit of any state. By contrast, Mississippi has the lowest maximum among states, paying up to $235 a week.

With the extra $600 a week, jobless benefits have been more generous than they've been at any time since the unemployment insurance system was created in the 1930s, according to labor economists.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., speaks during a news conference on July 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. House Democrats urged Republicans to extend unemployment benefits passed as part of the CARES Act, which are due to expire on July 31.
Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images

Democrats want to extend the $600 benefit, calling it a financial lifeline that has helped prop up the economy and household finances at a time when new jobs are hard to come by. The Democrat-led House in May passed the HEROES Act, which would extend the $600 bonus through early next year. 

Republicans want to end the payments or replace them with something less generous. Senate Republicans on Monday issued a proposal to cut weekly aid by two-thirds to $200 a week, eventually shifting to a policy offering up to 70% wage replacement.