The District’s unemployment rate is higher than that of all other states: the preliminary number for December is 7.3 percent compared to, for example, 4.8 percent in Virginia and 5.5 percent in Maryland. This is not very unusual given that we are an entirely urban jurisdiction. Perhaps for this reason, the demands on the District’s unemployment insurance program are higher than most other states’ programs.
We looked at the data on the District’s unemployment program and found the following:
- The District’s civilian labor force is 378,000 (data from the third quarter of 2014) but its unemployment insurance program covers 522,000 workers. This is because unemployment benefits are paid at the place of employment. Employers pay into the unemployment insurance fund of the state where they are located. And a commuter who works in the District is paid by the District’s unemployment insurance program if he loses his job, even though he is not a District resident.
- Some workers covered by the District’s unemployment insurance program have a hard time finding a job. In the District, unemployed workers receive benefits for 19 weeks on average compared to the national average of 16.6 weeks. In only two other the states the average duration of unemployment benefits is longer: Delaware and Kentucky.
- A larger share of the unemployed in the District exhaust their benefits because they are still unemployed 26 weeks after losing their jobs. Nearly half of those who receive unemployment benefits exhaust them while the average exhaustion rate in the nation is 38 percent.
Source: US Department of Labor
Why is this? While the unemployment in the District is high, the rate in the metropolitan area is low at 4.4 percent. Shouldn’t these workers be able to find work elsewhere in the region? This suggests that some workers in the District have skills that may not be needed in the metropolitan area, or have hard time getting to places in the metro area where their skills are valued.