Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds 2013

Many states have exhausted their unemployment trust funds—the funds from which states pay unemployment benefits—due to high unemployment rates and the extended length of time many people have been without work. More than half of states have borrowed from the federal government to cover costs, which may impact future fiscal stability.

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Sustained high unemployment rates, long-term unemployment and unsustainable funding models have exhausted state unemployment trust funds.

  • In 2010, the national unemployment rate was 9.6 percent. Throughout 2011, the rate hovered around 9 percent, while the average rate was 8.1 percent for 2012.
  • Sustained high unemployment rates affect unemployment insurance trust funds in two ways—decreased supply and increased demand. More people need unemployment benefits longer, increasing the money going out, while fewer people are paying into the reserves through payroll tax collections, draining the supply of incoming funds.
  • The number of long-term unemployed—defined as those unemployed for 27 weeks or more—skyrocketed throughout the economic downturn and contributed to trust fund insolvency.
  • In 2011, the percentage of unemployed workers considered long-term unemployed increased significantly, hitting 44.6 percent in September—the highest percentage since the U.S. Department of Labor began calculating the rate in 1948. By 2012, the long-term unemployed rate stabilized and began decreasing slightly, hitting 39.1 percent in December.
  • Individuals received unemployment benefits an average of 38.1 weeks in December 2012—more than double the average duration of unemployment when the recession began in December 2007.

  • As of Jan. 4, 2013, 19 states plus the Virgin Islands were borrowing money from the Federal Unemployment Account to help cover growing claims for unemployment insurance benefits, according to the Labor Department. Outstanding loans totaled more than $27 billion.
  • The number of states borrowing and the total amount being borrowed, however, is down considerably. As of November 2010, 31 states plus the Virgin Islands were borrowing nearly $41 billion.
  • California ($10.3 billion) and New York ($3.5 billion) are among the top borrowers of federal funds, with a combined total of more than $13.8 billion in loans. North Carolina is close behind New York, with a current balance of $2.6 billion.
  • On a per-capita basis, state borrowing ranged from a low of $6.73 in Alabama and $32.66 in Florida to a high of $270.85 in California and $270.38 in Indiana, as of Jan. 4, 2013.

As interest payments on long-term debt come due, states have begun to take action to regain solvency.

  • A provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act delayed interest from accruing on state loans and automatic tax increases from being triggered until the end of 2010. Now that provision has expired and states that haven’t paid off their debts—and employers in those states—are paying a price.
  • States have already paid out billions of dollars in interest on their federal loans and in 2012 accrued an additional $413.6 million in interest.1
  • States have used a number of strategies2 to regain solvency in their unemployment systems, including:

    • Issuing bonds to pay off federal debts, which could eliminate or minimize significant penalties and interest
    • Limiting benefits, including reducing the minimum and maximum amount of benefits that can be received weekly;
    • Narrowing definitions or classifications of who qualifies for benefits;
    • Reducing the duration of benefits; and
    • Raising the tax rate and/or the taxable wage base on employers for unemployment taxes.

Employers in states with outstanding long-term debt will see a tax hike in 2013.3

  • States that have been borrowing from the federal fund since 2010 or before were required to pay off the outstanding balances on those loans by September 2012. Employers in states that did not make this payment or did not qualify for exemption faced an increase in their 2013 federal unemployment tax rate.
  • The federal component of unemployment is funded by a 6 percent tax rate on the first $7,000 paid annually by employers to each employee. Employers in states that have unemployment programs approved by the Labor Department and no outstanding loan balances may credit 5.4 percentage points against the 6 percent tax rate, so that the net effective federal tax rate becomes 0.6 percent. The “effective” tax increase indicated here is actually a decrease to the 5.4 percentage point credit applied to the tax rate. For each year that states fail to pay off their loans on time, that credit gets reduced by 0.3 percent.4
  • In 2012, 18 states plus the Virgin Islands were unable to pay off their 2010 balances by the deadline.5 Employers in three states—Arizona, Delaware and Vermont—will see an effective 0.3 percentage point increase in their federal unemployment tax rate in 2013. Fourteen states—Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin—will see an effective 0.6 percentage point increase in their rates, while Indiana will see a hike of 0.9 percentage points and the Virgin Islands a 1.5 percentage point jump.6

Regional Analysis:

  • In November 2012, the average unemployment rate for states in CSG’s Midwestern region was 6 percent, the lowest of any CSG region.
  • The regional average is skewed downward due to the extremely low unemployment rates in both North Dakota (3.1 percent—the lowest rate in the nation) and Nebraska (3.7 percent—the second lowest rate in the nation). States in the region with the highest rates are Michigan (8.9 percent) and Illinois (8.7 percent). Michigan’s unemployment rate has fallen precipitously since its peak of 14.2 percent in 2009.
  • Three of the 11 states in the Midwestern region were borrowing a total of $4.4 billion from the federal government to continue paying unemployment benefits as of Jan. 4, 2013.
  • On a per capita basis, Wisconsin is borrowing the least in the region at $150.16 of debt per resident, while Indiana is borrowing the most at $270.38.

  • In November 2012, the average unemployment rate for states in CSG’s Eastern region was 7.5 percent, the highest average of any CSG region.
  • The regional average is skewed upward largely due to Rhode Island’s high unemployment rate of 10.4 percent, the second highest in the nation and the highest rate in the region. Rhode Island is followed by New Jersey at 9.6 percent and Connecticut at 8.8 percent. The lowest regional unemployment rates in November were in Vermont (5.2 percent) and New Hampshire (5.6 percent).
  • Six of the 11 states in the Eastern region were borrowing a total of $5.4 billion from the federal government to continue paying unemployment benefits as of Jan. 4, 2013. Almost two-thirds of that total is New York’s balance of $3.5 billion.
  • On a per capita basis, Delaware is borrowing the least in the region at $83.32 of debt per resident, while Rhode Island is borrowing the most at $189.92.

  • In November 2012, the average unemployment rate for states in CSG’s Southern region was 7.3 percent, just above the Western regional average of 7.2 percent and just below the Eastern regional average of 7.5 percent.
  • Oklahoma has the lowest unemployment rate in the region at 5.2 percent, followed by Virginia at 5.6 percent. States with the highest rates in the region are North Carolina (9.1 percent) and Mississippi (8.5 percent).
  • Eight of the 15 states in the Southern region were borrowing a total of $5.4 billion from the federal government to continue paying unemployment benefits as of Jan. 4, 2013. Almost half of that total is North Carolina’s balance at $2.6 billion.
  • On a per capita basis, Alabama is borrowing the least in the region at $6.73 of debt per resident, while North Carolina is borrowing the most at $262.07.

  • In November 2012, the average unemployment rate for states in CSG’s Western region was 7.2 percent, just below the Southern regional average of 7.3 percent and above the Midwestern regional average of 6 percent.
  • The region’s average unemployment rate includes high rates in Nevada (10.8 percent—the highest in the nation) and California (9.8 percent), but is balanced by relatively low rates in Utah and Wyoming (both at 5.1 percent).
  • Three of the 13 states in the Western region were borrowing a total of $11.3 billion from the federal government to continue paying unemployment benefits as of Jan. 4, 2013. A majority of that total is California’s balance at $10.3 billion.
  • On a per capita basis, Arizona is borrowing the least in the region at $47.88 of debt per resident, while California is borrowing the most at $270.85.

Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds 2013 by Jennifer Burnett

References

1Julie M. Whittaker, Congressional Research Service, The Unemployment Trust Fund (UTF): State Insolvency and Federal Loans to States, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22954.pdf.

2These changes are to state-level benefits only–federal benefits are calculated separately.

3The changes will be to the rates employers apply to their 2012 returns, to be filed on Jan. 31, 2013.

4For example, if a state is one year late in paying off its debt, the effective tax rate for employers becomes 0.9 percent (the usual 0.6 percent rate with an effective hike of 0.3 percent). Two years late would equal a 1.2 percent rate and so on.

5Whittaker

6U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, Final 2012 FUTA Credit Reductions, http://workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/unemploy/finance.asp