How to Calculate Weekly Unemployment Benefits

With the national unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent for nearly 19 consecutive months as of December 2010, many Americans are relying on unemployment insurance to make ends meet. If you intend on applying for unemployment, you can calculate how much you could receive before you receive your first check or fill out an unemployment application. However, understand that each state calculates unemployment compensation according to its own laws and formulas, and calculating an estimate is not a guarantee for the weekly benefit amount you may receive.

Step 1

Determine your base period using the date you intend to file your unemployment claim. The base period is the first four calendar quarters (or first 12 months) of the last five calendar quarters (or 15 months) prior to the week you will file your claim. For example, if you intend to file your claim on April 3, 2010, your base period will be Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2009.

Step 2

Using your pay stubs, W-2 forms or income statements and a calculator, compute and list your total earnings for each quarter. Proceeding with the base period established in Step 1, quarter one will be from Jan. 1, 2009, to March 31, 2009; quarter two will range from April 1, 2009, to June 30, 2009; quarter three will go from July 1, 2009, to Sept. 30, 2009; and quarter four will range from Oct. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2009.

Step 3

Add the totals from the quarters with the highest earnings. For example, if your two highest quarters were quarter two and quarter three with earnings of $8,820 and $9,000, respectively, your total earnings from the two highest quarters will be $8,820 + $9,000 = $17,820.

Step 4

Divide the sum of your two highest quarters by 26, the amount of weeks in two quarters, to determine your average weekly rate. For example, $17,820/26 = $685.38.

Step 5

Multiply your average weekly rate by half and round down to the nearest whole dollar to determine your weekly unemployment benefit. For example, using an average weekly rate of $685.38, $685.38 times 0.5 = $342.69, rounded down to $342.00 for the weekly unemployment benefit.


If you have earnings from only one or two quarters during the base period, select the highest-earning quarter and divide by 13, the number of weeks in a single quarter, to determine your weekly average wage. Then proceed to Step 5 to determine your weekly unemployment benefit.

Contact your local unemployment office or your state's employment or labor department to determine if your state uses a different formula, or online benefits estimator, to calculate unemployment benefits. If so, use your state's formula or online benefits estimator to get a projected weekly benefit amount according to your state's method of calculation.

Things You'll Need

  • W-2 form

  • Pay stubs

  • Income statements

  • Calculator