Calculating Unemployment Benefits in California

Unemployment, whether expected or unexpected, is something most people go through at some point in life. No matter the circumstances, it is often a stressful time. Navigating confusing unemployment benefit calculations only adds to the stress. Unemployment benefits are there to see individuals through until they can find work. Understanding eligibility, as well as the amount of monthly unemployment benefits one can expect to receive, can aid in budgeting and planning for the period of unemployment.

Who Is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

An individual seeking unemployment benefits must first meet certain requirements for eligibility in the state of California.

  • The individual is willing and able to work.
  • He or she is actively looking for work every week.
  • The cause of termination or layoff was no fault of his or her own.
  • He or she is willing to accept work immediately.

It is important to note that if the individual quit his or her last job by choice, he or she must contact a representative to determine eligibility. Some instances of quitting are acceptable, but many are not.

If the person receiving unemployment benefits opts to participate in government-funded job training or continuing education, he or she is not required to look for a job while actively attending that training program. Likewise, if he or she is offered a job during that time, it is acceptable to turn down the job to continue with the training while receiving unemployment benefits. This allows the individual to take advantage of skills learned in job training.

Calculating Unemployment Benefits & Weekly Base Pay

Unemployment benefits vary widely depending on the last source of income an individual can prove. The benefits are paid weekly and often equate to 60% to 70% of previous wages. Weekly benefits range from a minimum of $50 to a maximum of over $1,200. To qualify for maximum weekly unemployment, the individual must have made over $26,325 in a calendar quarter during the base period, which equates to an annual income of $105,300 or more.

The base period is a time frame between 5 and 18 months before drawing unemployment. Unemployment benefits on the fiscal quarter during which the individual made the most income within the base period. Individuals who receive the minimum weekly base pay (WBA) of $50 per week have quarterly earnings in the base period that are less than $929. Individuals whose quarterly earnings in the base period range from $929 to $5,229.98 will receive a full 70% of quarterly earnings as WBA. Individuals whose income exceeded $5,229.98 in a given quarter in the base period will receive approximately 60% of former earnings as WBA. In most instances, those with lower incomes receive a higher percentage of weekly benefits.

Other Factors That Impact Payment Amounts

A few other factors can affect WBA that do not pertain to the base period of previous earnings.

  • The individual’s spouse receives a high income.
  • He or she has used Disability Insurance (DI) one or more times before.
  • He or she has overdue court-ordered child support or alimony payments.
  • The individual has failed to report all sources of income in the base period, committing fraud.

How to Draw Unemployment

If you or someone in your household is unemployed, begin by contacting the Unemployment Insurance department in California (or the state where you reside). If prolonged disability is the reason for unemployment, apply for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. Experiencing unemployment for any reason is extremely difficult. Understanding the laws in your state surrounding unemployment benefits can make planning for the future an easier task.