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Report: Va. residents are among the least likely in the U.S. to seek unemployment help

It might be because benefits are so low.

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Tammy Bragg worker in Lynchburg unemployment Virginia

Tammy Bragg works the grill at the Texas Inn in Lynchburg. Before taking the job two months earlier, she had been out of the labor market for two years to take care of her grandchildren. 

Unemployment benefits are intended to provide a temporary safety net for people who lose their jobs, but for decades, fewer and fewer people in Virginia have been turning to the program for help.

A report released last week notes that Virginia’s recipiency rate, a metric used by the federal government to track uptake of benefits, has dropped to the third lowest in the country at just 16%.

That might be because the benefits the program offers are so low they don’t cover basic food, housing and transportation costs, the review, conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, suggested.

The state’s maximum weekly benefit is capped at $378 and can be as low as $60, depending on how much money a person was earning before they lost their jobs.

The upper limit was last increased in 2008 and the lower limit was last increased in 2014, when lawmakers increased it from $54.

“Virginia does not regularly increase UI benefit amounts, which is a primary reason its UI benefits are lower than other states,” the report states.

The legislative analysts suggested that if the General Assembly wanted to do something about that, they could follow lead of the 35 states that have indexed their benefits to economic metrics.

They calculated that indexing maximum benefits to 50% of average weekly wages — the level of support the program has historically aimed to provide — the maximum weekly benefit would rise from $378 to $682 and keep rising each year as wages change.

For a more gradual increase, they suggested the state could tie benefits to the annual percentage increase in average weekly wages, which sits at about 3%.

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(2) comments


There are many, many job openings.


The title of this article is disingenuous. Just because the recipiency rate is very low doesn't mean that the seek rate is low.

My friend was unemployed for several months last year and tried to get on unemployment every day multiple times a day. She simply continued to get busy tones. The process was extremely manual and they couldn't keep up with demand. Other states didn't have that problem (at least not to our extent). That's why so many people didn't get the assistance they needed, it's not because benefits were too low or the demand wasn't there.

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