Briefly, Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a federal program that requires each state to administer unemployment benefits in some fashion. And it’s the employers who pay into the federal and state UI systems through taxes, not you. Most states run their UI programs a bit differently, so your eligibility for UI benefits depends on the state you work in.
So, most everyone knows that if you get laid off from your full-time job then you’re probably eligible to collect these unemployment benefits.
But other circumstances could merit you unemployment benefits as well. For instance, you might qualify for unemployment if you:
- Worked part-time and got laid off;
- Worked under temporary contract and that contract expired;
- Worked for a term-of-project (TOP) and that project expired;
- Are still working but your hours have been drastically reduced (sometimes called WorkSharing, this program is offered in 18 states);1, 2 or
- Were fired for poor performance as opposed to a violation or misconduct.
Notice I use the word might above, because all states have different regulations and you need to check your state’s rules before filing a claim. You can find your state’s UI program and contact info easily with CareerOneStop’s locater map.
Some states specifically exclude coverage for certain types of work. The U.S. Department of Labor’s 2008 “Comparison of State Unemployment Insurance Laws” can be a helpful for gauging this.
Finally, remember that with the economy as it is, the phone lines of your state’s UI program are going to be backed up. So before calling to file a claim you should collect some info about your last several months of employment. Make sure you check your state’s rules and have that info ready, but for general reference, here’s what the state of Massachusetts will want from you when you file:
- Your Social Security Number;
- The year you were born;
- Your home address and telephone number;
- Whether you have filed an Unemployment Insurance claim in Massachusetts or in any other state during the past 12 months;
- Your last day of employment;
- The names and addresses of all of the employers you have worked for during the 15 months prior to filing your claim and the dates you worked for each of these employers. If you are reopening a claim, be ready with the same information for the past 8 weeks;
- The reason that you are no longer working or that your hours have been reduced;
- The names, dates of birth and social security numbers for any dependent children, if you are going to apply for dependency allowance; and
- Your alien registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen;3
Oh, and if there’s not enough heartbreak in your world already, those unemployment benefits are taxable income.4
 See "Companies Implement Part-Time Layoffs," by Curt Nickisch, NPR Morning Edition, Aug. 21, 2008.
 See, for example, the state of Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency's rules for "underemployment."
 Quoted from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
 See "Taxation of Unemployment Benefits," by Christine Scott, Congressional Research Service, 2005.