Damned If You Do And If You Don’t

Cleveland Free Times - January 7, 2006

Cleveland Free Times

Any way you slice it, the Ohio workers who need unemployment compensation the most — those living paycheck to paycheck — are a little less likely to get it in the new year. Because the federal minimum wage has not risen, and because the Ohio formula for determining eligibility is pegged to average weekly wages, the amount a person has to work to qualify for unemployment benefits keeps going up. That’s why in 2006, a minimum-wage worker who logs 37 hours a week every week will not qualify for unemployment compensation. To qualify for unemployment this year, a worker will have to average at least $193 a week for a minimum of 20 weeks. That’s up from $186 in 2005. Another way to look at it: You can make $10,000 this year and still not qualify. A decently paying part-time job might not cut it, either: you can earn $9 an hour for 20 hours a week and still not qualify. “Ohio’s eligibility requirements are among the highest in the country,” says Zack Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio. “Our requirement is set by law at 27.5 percent of the average weekly wage.” And it’s not just teens working at the ice cream store. For a 2004 study of unemployment benefits, Policy Matters looked at minimum-wage workers and found that only 27 percent were teens. And the period of time required to compute the average — 20 weeks — is much longer than summer vacation. As result, just 36 of 100 jobless workers in Ohio get benefits, compared to a national average of 41. And the situation won’t change until Ohio’s eligibility requirements go down, or the minimum wage goes up. “The amount a minimum-wage worker has to work to qualify for the benefit has been going up by about an hour every year for a number of years,” Schiller said. “We have a particularly high threshold.” — Michael Gill

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