Unemployement Compensation

Federal Unemployment Compensation

The Social Security Act of 1935 created the Federal-State Unemployment Compensation (UC) Program. The program has two main objectives: (1) to provide temporary and partial wage replacement to involuntarily unemployed workers who were recently employed; and (2) to help stabilize the economy during recessions. The U.S. Department of Labor oversees the system, but each State administers its own program. Because Federal law defines the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands as States for the purposes of UC, there are 53 State programs.

The Federal Unemployment Tax Act of 1939 and titles III, IX, and XII of the Social Security Act form the framework of the system. The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) imposes a 6.2 percent gross tax rate on the first $7,000 paid annually by covered employers to each employee. Employers in States with programs approved by the Federal Government and with no delinquent Federal loans may credit 5.4 percentage points against the 6.2 percent tax rate, making the minimum net Federal unemployment tax rate 0.8 percent. Since all States have approved programs, 0.8 percent is the effective Federal tax rate. This Federal revenue finances administration of the system, half of the Federal-State Extended Benefits Program, and a Federal account for State loans. The individual States finance their own programs, as well as their half of the Federal-State Extended Benefits Program.

In 1976, Congress passed a surtax of 0.2 percent of taxable wages to be added to the permanent FUTA tax rate. Thus, the current effective 0.8 percent FUTA tax rate has two components: a permanent tax rate of 0.6 percent, and a surtax rate of 0.2 percent. The surtax has been extended five times, most recently by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 through December 31, 2007.

FUTA generally determines covered employment. FUTA also imposes certain requirements on the State programs, but the States generally determine...