Weather Forecast


Low unemployment isn't no unemployment

Press Photo by Dustin Monke A Mortensen Construction worker works on the new Sanford Health Clinic in Dickinson on July 12. Despite having low unemployment in all sectors, North Dakota still has people looking for work.

In North Dakota, the state with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, a "help wanted" sign on just about every corner and a marketing campaign touting its strong economy in other states, it is difficult to imagine anyone taking advantage of unemployment insurance.

Still, losing a job is tough.

Not only is it a loss of income, it's a loss of livelihood and identity and can lead to a loss of shelter and transportation due to the inability to make payments.

Even though it takes a few weeks to process, it is imperative that anyone planning on using unemployment insurance file a claim immediately after losing their job, said Mark Butland, the manager of business and applicant services in the unemployment insurance area of Job Service North Dakota.

"A claim is effective the Sunday of the week you file it," Butland said. "It's important to file right away so you don't lose any potential weeks of benefits."

The first week a claim is filed is considered the waiting week, Butland said. No one receives benefits for this week.

There are two ways to file, through the Jobs Service North Dakota website or through its automated telephone system.

"If you say you were laid off due to lack of work and your employer agrees, then you're potentially eligible to receive your weekly benefit," Butland said. "If a person was discharged or quit their job, that is going to go out on the notice to the employer."

Jobs Service North Dakota will investigate the termination until it has a clear idea of why the person is no longer working, Butland said.

"We have to give the employer an opportunity to respond initially," Butland said. "We have to go back and forth a few times to essentially get all the information we need."

Those filing for unemployment must have been working for at least a year and made at least $2,800 in a two-quarter period, Butland said. The benefit distributed weekly is based on a formula taking wages from prior quarters. The minimum benefit is $43 per week and the maximum benefit is $516 each week. Work in a previous state can be used to establish the benefit amount.

Claimants are allowed to work when using their unemployment insurance, but cannot exceed the amount of their benefit, Butland said. They can make up to 60 percent of their benefit payment before the amount is docked at a dollar-for-dollar rate.

Once the initial claim is made, those using unemployment insurance need to keep filing each week. They must be actively looking for a job and can take advantage of several Job Service North Dakota programs, Butland said.

"Once they file a claim, if they're not returning to that employer, they would be assigned a work search to be completed each week," Butland said. "They will be assigned a minimum of four contacts to be made each week and they have to keep a record of that. There's online education items to help them find work more quickly. One of the things they'll be asked to do in some circumstances is to attend an interview skills workshop."

Unemployment insurance was created by the Social Security Act of 1935 as a means of economic stabilization, according to the most recent North Dakota Unemployment Insurance Data Book published in June. Employers pay taxes to both the state and federal governments to cover the costs of the program.

In 2012, an average of 4,400 people used their unemployment benefit each week, according to the Job Service North Dakota data. In 2009, there was an average of 6,800, a number not seen since the 1980s.

In 2012, the average person used unemployment insurance for 11.7 weeks.

"We're one of the lowest durations in the country," Butland said. "It's indicative that people seem to find work fairly quick."


-- Men account for the majority of unemployment claims.

-- Construction workers use unemployment more than any other industry.

-- The average yearly wage in North Dakota in 2012 was $45,618.

-- In 2012 there were 125 established unemployment insurance overpayment fraud cases with an average amount of $1,015. In 1987 there were 337 cases with an average amount of $723, the most in a single year in the last 30 years. In 1994 there were six established fraud cases with the average amount of $1,989. This was the year with the fewest cases in the last 30 years, but with the highest average amount.

Facts provided by the North Dakota Unemployment Insurance Data Book

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206