That's it, I've got to give up the sunny life in California and move to Massachusetts, where life for the unemployed must be like living the high life.

In California, where I live and worked my entire life until being laid off in June, the unemployment rate is 7.7%. compared to the national average of 6.1%. I'm getting the maximum amount from the state in unemployment benefits, $450 a week, but it turns out I could be making double that if I lived and had worked in Massachusetts. I'm now putting my Oakland A's caps away and am on the hunt for a Red Sox hat.

"The Bay State," while much smaller geographically than "The Golden State," pays up to $900 per week, making it the highest paying state in the United States for unemployment benefits. Massachusetts has a 5.3% unemployment rate, which you'd think would be higher if employees knew how much they could collect if their companies are looking for people to go on the chopping block. Mississippi has the lowest payout, up to $210 a week, but has a 7.8% unemployment rate that is barely higher than California's. Looks like the jobless in Mississippi are getting the short end of the stick.

The eligibility criteria are decided by each state, based on how long you worked and how much money you earned before being laid off. Generally, anyone who worked full-time for a year will likely qualify. There are plenty of unemployment tips to be aware of, but one of the first shocking things I learned after losing my job was that states on average replace 50% of wages, with a cap regardless of how much I earned. I thought that after a working lifetime of paying taxes for unemployment benefits, I'd get enough to live on for a year. Not so. Florida's cap is $275 while Hawaii's is $523. Most states also provide additional funds for dependents -- not California -- usually a fixed sum such as the $25 per dependent in Massachusetts. Yet another reason to be unemployed in Massachussetts, and with a lot of kids!

Benefits last for up to 26 weeks, although the federal government added 13 weeks in an emergency measure this summer. With 10.1 million people looking for work, Boston would become a lot more crowded, at least for 39 weeks. Then back to sunny California. Go Red Sox!

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com


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