As a graduate, you might have worked part-time jobs during school but now face unemployment since you haven't had luck finding a post-grad job yet. While being a recent graduate alone won't disqualify you from getting unemployment benefits as long as you meet state requirements, it can traditionally make it harder. After all, states will normally want to see a significant work and earnings history that you might not yet have. However, the good news is that you can currently qualify more easily if you've recently become unemployed due to the pandemic because of some temporarily loosened requirements.
Standard Requirements for Unemployment Benefits
The specific requirements for recent graduates and anybody else to qualify for unemployment benefits will vary by state. However, you'll usually see these following standards regardless of your location:
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- Unemployment reason: Your state will require that you've recently lost your position or lost income due to getting less work each week. The reason must be not under your control such as downsizing, low business, end of a temporary role or business closure. So, if you had quit your part-time job simply due to graduating soon, that can disqualify you.
- Recent unemployment: States usually set a deadline for applying for benefits after you've become partially or fully unemployed. This can make it hard for a recent graduate who might not have worked within the last months due to taking only seasonal jobs.
- Number of quarters worked: States usually go back four or five quarters to check whether you've worked. At the same time, they require that you've made earnings within a certain number of those quarters. So, if you don't have much of an employment history due to being a student, you can run into trouble qualifying.
- Base period earnings: States may use a base period or alternate base period to check your past earnings over the last four or five quarters. They may look at whether you made a certain amount during at least one quarter and exceeded a total amount over the whole period used. If you mainly work during the holidays or summer or only a few hours per week, you may not meet this standard in your state.
- Legal status: Getting unemployment benefits in the United States requires that you've worked legally in the country. This allows for U.S. citizens, permanent residents and others with a work permit but excludes undocumented workers.
- Work ability: For your state to consider you unemployed, you typically can't have a mental or physical condition that makes it impossible for you to work. At the same time, states require a willingness to work as soon as able.
While being a recent graduate can make it harder to qualify for unemployment benefits due to some of the requirements discussed, you have a better chance now if your situation was caused by COVID-19.
The temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program from the federal government can help you get benefits even if you recently lost a job or had a major reduction in hours but fail to meet your state's requirements for work history. It can even help you if you had a job lined up after graduation but couldn't begin since your employer had to close due to a state order or you can otherwise not reach your company.
The PUA program can also help you get benefits under other special circumstances. For example, if you've had a job but couldn't work since you or someone you live with has COVID-19, you could qualify for benefits. The same applies if your state has a lockdown that doesn't allow you to leave for work or if you had to give up a job due to COVID-19.
Moving Forward With Applying
Even if you think you just have a small chance of qualifying as a recent graduate, consider still visiting your state's unemployment website to fill out an application. It helps to act quickly so that you don't miss any state deadline and can get your benefits sooner, as higher demand for benefits has caused delays to become commonplace. Filling out some information about your unemployment situation and earnings and work history will help your state investigate and determine what you might receive.
If your claim gets approved, you could receive $600 extra on top of state benefits every week as a temporary federal benefit due to the pandemic. If you don't get a positive result, consider appealing the decision with your state if you think you have the grounds to qualify and can present some additional evidence.