How to Calculate Unemployment Benefits in California

By Madison Garcia ; Updated April 11, 2017
Out of Work

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California unemployment benefits provides a cash cushion for employees who have been laid off. The State of California Employment Development Department offers resources explaining how to calculate your unemployment benefits.

The amount of unemployment benefits is a factor of how much the claimant earned in wages during a base period. To calculate the benefit, determine the base period, calculate wages in the highest-earning quarter and determine the corresponding weekly benefit amount.

Unemployment Basics

Not everyone who leaves a job can collect unemployment benefits. Whether you qualify for unemployment benefits depends on the way you left your previous job. To claim benefits, you must have been laid off rather than fired for cause or have quit voluntarily. The weekly maximum unemployment benefit available in California is $450, and California offers unemployment benefits for six months. Unless Congress approves a federal extension of unemployment benefits, the checks will stop coming after you exhaust your six-month fund.

Determine Your Standard Base Period

The standard base period is the earning time frame the state considers when evaluating your claim. Your standard base period is the first four of the last five calendar quarters before you submitted your unemployment claim. For example, say you submitted an unemployment claim on Jan. 1, 2017. Your standard base period would be October 2015 through September 2016. You must have earned enough in this time period to establish a claim, at least $1,300 in the quarter.

Identify Your Highest-Earning Quarter

Your claim dollar amount is derived from the base period quarter in which you had the highest earnings. To figure your claim amount, sum your wages from each quarter of the base period. The state counts only W-2 earnings from a job in this figure, so don't include earnings from self-employment or passive income. The quarter with the highest number will be used to determine your weekly benefit amount. For example, if your highest wage amount was $9,000 in quarter 3, $9,000 will be used to determine your claim amount.

Determine Corresponding Weekly Benefit Amount

Match your highest quarter wages with the corresponding weekly benefit amount in the benefit table of the California Unemployment Insurance Handbook. The lowest wages that can earn you a benefit would be $900, which gives a weekly benefit of $40. The highest weekly benefit you can obtain would be $450, assuming you earned at least $11,674 in one quarter. Earnings of $9,000 would equate to a weekly benefit payment of $347. If you remain unemployed for 26 weeks, you can collect a total of $9,022 in unemployment benefits.

How Weekly Benefit is Calculated

The California unemployment calculation uses the highest quarter's earnings and converts that into a weekly earning. Benefits are paid at 55 percent of that weekly earning. Assuming you make $13,000 in your highest paid quarter, you convert that into a weekly benefit. Since there are 13 weeks in a quarter, your weekly earning would translate to $1,000 per week. Fifty-five percent of this weekly wage is $550; this is your weekly benefit until you either find new work or exhaust your unemployment benefits.

About the Author

Based in San Diego, Calif., Madison Garcia is a writer specializing in business topics. Garcia received her Master of Science in accountancy from San Diego State University.