Local News

Laid off in N.C.? It could be worse

Posted December 19, 2008 3:26 p.m. EST
Updated December 19, 2008 6:50 p.m. EST

— The thousands of unemployed people statewide can at least be grateful that they were laid off in North Carolina and not in South Carolina.

The maximum payout from North Carolina's unemployment insurance is among the highest in the country and is at least $100 higher than surrounding states.

In North Carolina, the maximum weekly unemployment check is $494, compared with $378 in Virginia, $326 in South Carolina and $275 in Tennessee.

"The way we do it is truly economically based," said David Clegg, deputy chairman of the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.

The state bases the maximum payout on nearly 67 percent of the average weekly wage in North Carolina during a one-year period, compared with 50 percent in South Carolina. Clegg said industries like technology, financial services and higher education boost that weekly average in North Carolina.

"Those (industries) carry with them a very substantial wage, and so North Carolina wages are probably 10 to 15 percent higher than any other state in the Southeast," he said.

Another factor in the state's favor is that the ESC sets the rate of unemployment benefits. In most other states, lawmakers make that decision, which Clegg says "politicizes" the issue.

"(Unemployment benefits are) a safety net, so [workers] can go out and actively seek to reconnect themselves to the labor market," he said.

William Harris said he gets $301 a week in unemployment benefits as he searches for a new job.

"They're not as adequate as I'd like them to be, just enough to keep me afloat," Harris said.

But Tina Branch, who was laid off from her security job, said her $182 in weekly benefits is more than half of what she earned each week on the job and is better than nothing.

"It's OK. It helps out. It's better than what I did have" before the ESC checks started coming, Branch said.

North Carolina has about $300 million in reserve for jobless benefits and expects to collect up to $700 million in the first half of next year. Officials have said that North Carolina could run out of money to pay jobless benefits if layoffs increase, but they plan to tap a federal backup fund if that happens.