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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 8, 2020

Only a few get an unemployment ‘pay raise’

If Your Time is short

  • Some lower-wage workers collecting unemployment can receive two or three times the amount they were paid on the job. 

  • That’s the result of a $600-per-week federal unemployment bonus that’s available from April through July of 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

  • The stimulus does not raise pay for people still on the job.

Some people who continue to work through the coronavirus outbreak are upset that they’re getting no additional pay, while some unemployed people are now receiving more in unemployment benefits than they were paid on the job.

The frustration was expressed in a Facebook post directed at New York’s Democratic governor.

"OK, so now we have a problem, Mr. Governor Andrew Cuomo," the post begins. "Non-essential people get to file for unemployment and make two to three times more than normal. The average worker bringing home $250-350 a week would be sitting at home getting $900 a week, while us essential workers are at risk putting our lifes (sic) on the line to provide for our families to make the same we always make."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

It is possible for workers in that pay range to receive unemployment payments that are two or nearly three times higher than what they were paid on the job.

That’s the result of a federal stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump, not due to any action taken by Cuomo. It includes $600 bonuses on weekly unemployment checks.

But even with the bonus, higher-income workers who lose their jobs will receive less money on unemployment than they did on the job.

The $600 bonus

As we’ve reported:

The federal government’s largest stimulus law — the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act — adds $600 per week, for up to four months, to the regular unemployment checks that people receive through their state government. 

The bonuses began April 5, 2020 and are available through July 31, 2020.

Doubling your pay, or more

Nationally, unemployment checks usually are about half of what a person earned on his or her most recent job, up to a limit, which is set by each state. Benefits in some states are higher than that.

So, to use one of the figures in the Facebook post, take a laid-off New York resident formerly earning $350 per week, or $18,200 on an annual basis. That person would typically get an unemployment check of $198 per week, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York think tank. Add the $600 bonus, and the total is $798 per week — or more than double that person’s regular pay.

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At those rates, the laid-off worker would receive about $7,600 more in unemployment aid over the 17-week span of the program than they would have received in earnings if they had been able to stay at work.

Nationally, the average weekly unemployment benefit was $385 per week as of January 2020, Gary Burtless, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, told PolitiFact. With the stimulus bonus, that person’s benefit would more than double to $985 per week.

The stimulus includes a one-time payment of $1,200 that most adults are scheduled to receive sometime in April 2020, along with payments for each dependent child age 17 or younger. But those go to the unemployed as well as the employed.

There is no additional pay from the federal stimulus package for people who remain employed. That includes people in essential jobs such as grocery store clerks, delivery workers, food and medical supply-chain workers, and lower-paid hospital staff. 

If essential workers were laid off, they would have to make less than $798 a week in New York to do the same or better on unemployment. Workers who made more would be made worse off, even with the government stimulus. 

What’s happened in New York

Although the post alludes to New York, we found no actions taken by New York state to boost pay for such workers.

That was confirmed to us by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Rockefeller Institute of Government, both New York-based think tanks that focus on New York state government; and the Center for New York City Affairs research organization.

A spokesman in the governor’s office told us that Cuomo has taken steps, such as waiving a waiting period, to make it easier to collect unemployment.

Some states have tried to help certain workers in other ways. For example, New York, Illinois and Maryland are offering child care assistance to certain essential workers. 

Also, in Saratoga County, N.Y., county officials are defending their decision to pay time-and-a-half to 340 employees deemed essential, the Daily Gazette reported. The cost for the overtime, which is being paid to about one-quarter of the workforce, is $150,000 per week.

Several experts noted to us that some federal officials have discussed the possibility in a future stimulus bill of providing additional pay to essential workers.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said that "non-essential people get to file for unemployment and make two to three times more than normal," but essential workers still on the job get no pay raise.

This dynamic only applies to some workers who have modest incomes. For four months, from April through July of 2020, unemployed people are eligible for $600-per-week federal bonuses that, in some cases, can double or nearly triple what they earned on the job. 

We rate the Facebook statement Half True.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, April 1, 2020

Interview, Gov. Andrew Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall, April 7, 2020

PolitiFact, "Big boost in unemployment checks, but no pay hike for workers," April 6, 2020

Email, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research senior economist Brad Hershbein, April 6, 2020

Email, Jonas Shaende, chief economist, Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York think tank, April 7, 2020

Email, National Governors Association spokesman James Nash, April 6, 2020

Email, James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policies, Center for New York City Affairs, April 6, 2020

Email, Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy, Economic Policy Institute, and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, April 6, 2020

Email, Joel Tirado, spokesman for the Rockefeller Institute of Government, April 7, 2020

Email, Mick Bullock, National Conference of State Legislatures public affairs director, April 7, 2020

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Only a few get an unemployment ‘pay raise’

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