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Tying Unemployment Assistance to the State Unemployment Rate Would Weaken Protections, Slow Down Economic Recovery in the Future

Although employment has improved dramatically since the peak of job loss during the pandemic, Missouri’s strong unemployment rate masks considerable geographic disparities. Further, not all Missourians have recovered equally. Tying unemployment benefits to economic conditions that do not represent local areas or within specific groups would make it more difficult for Missourians to make ends meet during economic downturns.

Like the rest of the country, Missouri’s unemployment rate spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the state’s pre-pandemic 2019 annual unemployment rate was 3.2%, at the height of the pandemic in April 2020, 1 in every 9 Missouri workers (or 11.2%) were unemployed. Unemployment insurance (UI), a federal-state partnership that supports people who have lost their jobs by temporarily replacing part of their wages, helped Missourians and their families stay afloat during an unprecedented crisis.

Although the job market has improved since the pandemic started, the economic recovery has been slower for some workers compared to others. The state unemployment rate is often not representative of the economic conditions in all areas. Currently, fifty of Missouri’s 114 counties have unemployment rates above the state average of 2.8%. The majority of counties with high unemployment are clustered in rural areas of Missouri, with especially high rates in the Bootheel and southern Missouri (see Appendix for detailed rates by county and year).

In addition, during economic downturns unemployment among Black and Brown workers rises faster and stays high longer than among white workers. This dynamic was heightened during the pandemic because Black workers were more likely to work in jobs susceptible to pandemic-related staffing reductions.

Missouri Average Unemployment Rate by Race: 2019-2022

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population in states by sex, race, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, and detailed age 2019-2022.

Shortcomings of Unemployment Insurance in Missouri

While unemployment Insurance (UI) is critical for families experiencing job loss, UI benefits in Missouri are lower than most other states and are available for shorter period of time.

  • Missouri’s maximum weekly benefit is $320, compared to the national average of $497.61.
  • The state’s maximum is well below all surrounding states but Tennessee and is the seventh lowest in the country.
  • Unemployment insurance benefits are available in Missouri for up to 20 weeks – far less than the 26 weeks most other states provide.

Strengthening Unemployment Insurance in Missouri

Missouri’s unemployment benefits are already some of the most limited in the nation. Restricting these benefits further by tying unemployment benefits to economic conditions that do not represent local areas or within specific groups would make it more difficult for Missourians to make ends meet during economic downturns and make it harder for our communities to recover in the future. Instead, lawmakers should focus on strengthening Missouri’s existing program by ensuring all Missourians are able to access the support they need to get them by.


Average Annual Unemployment Rate by County:
2019-2022 (Unadjusted)

Adair County3.
Andrew County2.6432.2
Atchison County3.543.22.5
Audrain County3.
Barry County3.
Barton County3.
Bates County3.
Benton County4.67.35.74
Bollinger County3.
Boone County2.34.232.1
Buchanan County2.
Butler County4.
Caldwell County35.35.13
Callaway County2.
Camden County4.36.953.5
Cape Girardeau County2.
Carroll County3.
Carter County4.
Cass County2.
Cedar County3.
Chariton County2.843.32.2
Christian County2.
Clark County3.464.63.3
Clay County2.764.92.8
Clinton County2.
Cole County2.
Cooper County3.
Crawford County3.66.34.53
Dade County34.33.32.3
Dallas County4.35.84.33
Daviess County3.
Dekalb County2.
Dent County3.
Douglas County4.
Dunklin County5.
Franklin County36.142.5
Gasconade County3.
Gentry County2.
Greene County2.
Grundy County3.
Harrison County3.
Henry County3.55.842.8
Hickory County4543
Holt County2.63.32.92
Howard County2.
Howell County3.
Iron County4.575.84.4
Jackson County3.
Jasper County2.
Jefferson County2.964.12.6
Johnson County3.
Knox County2.843.12.7
Laclede County6.
Lafayette County2.
Lawrence County3.3642.6
Lewis County34.93.52.5
Lincoln County3.
Linn County4.
Livingston County2.43.732.1
Macon County3.
Madison County3.
Maries County3.
Marion County34.83.52.5
Mcdonald County3.
Mercer County33.52.92.5
Miller County3.664.12.7
Mississippi County3.
Moniteau County2.
Monroe County45.94.42.9
Montgomery County34.93.72.6
Morgan County4.
New Madrid County4.
Newton County3.
Nodaway County2.
Oregon County3.
Osage County2.
Ozark County5.
Pemiscot County4.787.34.8
Perry County2.
Pettis County3.
Phelps County3.
Pike County3.
Platte County2.55.442.4
Polk County3.
Pulaski County3.
Putnam County3.
Ralls County34.43.42.5
Randolph County3.
Ray County3.
Reynolds County3.
Ripley County5.
Saline County34.53.52.6
Schuyler County4.
Scotland County2.
Scott County3.
Shannon County5.
Shelby County2.
St. Charles County2.
St. Clair County4.
St. Francois County3.574.83.5
St. Louis City3.
St. Louis County2.
Ste. Genevieve County2.
Stoddard County4.
Stone County4.
Sullivan County3.
Taney County4.912.67.55
Texas County4.
Vernon County3.
Warren County2.
Washington County4.
Wayne County4.66.153.8
Webster County3.
Worth County2.64.12.52
Wright County56.942.9
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