Who's paying for my friend's vacations? (while unemployed)
February 19, 2016 8:30 AM   Subscribe

My friend (who has never failed to let everyone know how much he's making) was fired from his job a couple months ago in NYC. He now has gone one two vacations...while taking unemployment money. This is all information he voluntarily told all his friends.

This made me and several of our mutual friends quiet upset, as we are all generally socially aware folks who care about the state of society and not taking advantage of government aid. I definitely support unemployment fund for people who need it, but this is a guy who's literally said all he has is a lot of money and free time. I was talking to another friend about this yesterday, and she argued that most of the unemployment fund is coming from his previous employer, and only a small amount from the government.

So who pays for unemployment in New York? If this friend isn't taking the unemployment money, where would that money go? This wouldn't really change my opinion, but I'm just curious now how exactly it all works.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unemployment insurance would be paid to him by the New York State government. The money comes from taxes paid by employers, but he is not receiving funding from his employer specifically, unless by "unemployment fund" we're talking about some kind of severance package his employer gave him.

As part of receiving state unemployment benefits you are supposed to certify weekly that you have been looking for work, with a log of employers you contacted and jobs you applied for. The minimum is three "work search activities" per week, which have to be done on different days. The state is supposed to follow up with your contacts to verify. I'm not sure how timely they are in doing so.
posted by AndrewInDC at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nothing good ever really comes of counting other people's money. That being said, he might be funding his vacations with his savings, and using the unemployment insurance for basic living expenses. I'm not sure what's really wrong with that.

As to your question, if New York is like Minnesota, then yes, it's a split between money from "the government" and money directly from the previous employer (here's some info about what employers have to do to be compliant in NYS). That being said, that money from "the government" comes at least partially from unemployment insurance premiums that your friend paid as part of his taxes, and is therefore entitled to, now that he's been fired.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:43 AM on February 19, 2016 [84 favorites]

Unemployment benefits are typically paid by state government, and the money comes from taxes workers pay in each paycheck. Employers also pay a tax that goes to unemployment benefits. It is like an insurance program, where you pay a little each paycheck, and you end up getting the money back only if you are unlucky enough to end up unemployed through no fault of your own. The government-sponsored benefits typically amount to only 40-50% of the employee's original wage, and there is a time limit on how long you can receive them.

It is possible that in your friend's case his former employer also chose to provide him with a severance package -- extra money on top of unemployment insurance. That would be funded entirely by the company, and would also be limited in time to whatever the company had decided.

Every state is a little different, but I think that in most places, if one extra person wasn't receiving benefits, that money would just get rolled over into the next period to pay future benefits. Also, the benefits that one individual person does or does not receive is really not affecting the overall program in any way.

As far as your friend's behavior -- it is hard to know exactly what's going on here, but IF this is all unemployment benefits, it is a program he (and his employer) paid into through taxes, so it's not as if this is some random benefit he's getting. It's also possible he has significant savings and/or got a generous package payed entirely through his employer.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:43 AM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

As part of receiving state unemployment benefits you are supposed to certify weekly that you have been looking for work, with a log of employers you contacted and jobs you applied for. The minimum is three "work search activities" per week, which have to be done on different days. The state is supposed to follow up with your contacts to verify. I'm not sure how timely they are in doing so.

Also online resume submissions count as part of these "work-search activities" so they could easily by done while out of town.
posted by edbles at 8:46 AM on February 19, 2016 [15 favorites]

I had a whole thing written up here about how unemployment works in Illinois based on my experience with IDES, but you're going to get better info just by reading a few wikipedia pages. Unemployment money mostly comes from payroll taxes his employer paid to the government.

The fact that your friend can afford to go on vacations is completely separate from his employment situation, as is the fact that he's a total dick about it. Some people are good at saving money, and it's really easy if you're a high earner as he apparently was. Perhaps he's paying for his vacations with his own savings--he's absolutely entitled to take this time off as a proper break from life and spend his own money as he sees fit. How much you can draw for unemployment benefits has a cap. It's extremely unlikely he's drawing more than $2000 month, so if he's paying New York rents and traveling, he's almost certainly supplementing it with his own money.

The fact that he's able to draw unemployment at all means that he was probably not fired for cause; he was probably downsized or let go in one of those "it's just not working out" type situations. No matter how much money you make, if your workplace farts you out of an income like that you're entitled to have your employer pay for your troubles.

I suggest you find other things to get upset about and maybe stop being friends with someone you clearly don't like.
posted by phunniemee at 8:46 AM on February 19, 2016 [96 favorites]

The NY State Dep't of Labor says on its website that, "The cost of providing unemployment insurance benefits is met entirely by the employer." I think that's probably a bit of an oversimplification and it is more like his employer, like all employers, is paying taxes into the fund out of which unemployment benefits are paid.

On a more general note, I'd say that when government benefits are only available to the poorest in the U.S., they tend to become stigmatized and underfunded. In contrast, broadly available benefits, like Social Security or Medicare, are seen as respectable and become very difficult for politicians to target for budget cuts. So, if you believe in having a good social safety net, it probably makes sense to support having unemployment insurance be available for all laid-off workers, even the rich guys who can afford vacations, and not just the poor.
posted by Area Man at 8:47 AM on February 19, 2016 [20 favorites]

Unemployment insurance is a condition of work and paid for from tax dollars. It's not something the government doles out to the virtuous and deserving. It doesn't matter if your friend is an unemployed hedge fund manager - he still gets the things he is entitled to under law.

You might consider, as you imagine the better places that this money could go, whether you really want a society where the government decides whether people are really deserving enough to access benefits to which they are entitled under law. What if I have both a pension and social security, for example? Surely my social security should be yanked because I was able to get and hold a job with a pension - after all, just because I paid into social security and am entitled to it under law, that doesn't mean I deserve it, right? Couldn't I just live on my pension?

Of course, there would be a tremendous number of administrative costs associated with making sure that no one who has savings or an employer pay-out also gets unemployment, no one with a pension gets social security, no one with a garden gets food stamps, etc, and it would put the government smack in the middle of everyone's business. Historically, this type of thing has not actually gone well for low-income people, since government policies tend to be enforced most severely against the marginalized.
posted by Frowner at 8:51 AM on February 19, 2016 [25 favorites]

This is not based on need. It is an insurance policy paying off. Should your friend turn down Social Security payments when he retires if he has millions in the bank? If you can afford to fix your car after an accident, should you not have your insurance pay for it?

"Socially aware people who care about the state of society and not taking advantage of government aid" can surely appreciate the concept of insurance and being eligible not based on need but based on other factors.
posted by AugustWest at 8:57 AM on February 19, 2016 [28 favorites]

The maximum weekly unemployment payment he could be receiving is $420. This article states that individuals in New York who are receiving severance pay do not qualify for unemployment benefits until the severance runs out; the Department of Labor website backs this up although there may be some situations where he would qualify to receive both.

So it seems likely that your friend is bullshitting you and/or not telling you the whole truth. If he is getting unemployment it hardly seems worth getting worked up about him misusing state funds given that $1680/month will not get you very far in NYC.
posted by fox problems at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Your friend can do whatever he wants with his time off work. He is clearly entitled to and eligible for unemployment benefits by law and more power to him if he has savings or a severance that allows him to use his time off to do something fun. Saying he was fired implies he did something wrong. If that was the case, he probably wouldn't be getting benefits.

Unemployment benefits are sorta like social security - what you receive is based on the salary you had and the unemployment taxes that you paid in. As someone whose husband just collected the max in our state for a couple months, believe me, noone is living high off the hog on unemployment. Benefits are also finite - you can only get them for 26 weeks. It isn't like food stamps where it is based on how much income you have now.

he can do whatever he wants with the money he has and is entitiled too. Feel free to say i told you so if he can't make his rent in a few months, but until then really none of your business.
posted by domino at 8:59 AM on February 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

This is none of your business + he's not a dick to go on vacation or make the most of being unemployed. But really, this is none of your business.

If his job was the sort that paid well to begin with, he probably got a generous severance package. If he did not use his paid vacation days, he was paid those on top of severance.

As an example, a friend of mine was laid off from a once profitable organization he had worked for for over 6 years, and he had accrued so many unused paid vacation days that being compensated on those was a windfall all in itself.

There are plenty of social inequalities and government money scams to get angry about (you should read funding bills that congress passes, congress basically exists to give public money to private corporations) and whatever your friend is doing should cause you zero to no concern.

Unemployment money is usually not so much it can fund vacations, at any rate. The advice above not to count other people's money is sound.
posted by jbenben at 9:03 AM on February 19, 2016 [29 favorites]

Just FYI, actually in Canada you aren't allowed to collect unemployment while you are unable to take a job or job search, so you have your EI suspended during that period. (If, for instance, you are still job searching and having phone interviews and would just go home if you got a job, you can actually receive EI.) But there's nothing unethical about going on vacation if it's legal -- either because the place you are in allows it or because you are suspending your benefits for a bit.
posted by jeather at 9:08 AM on February 19, 2016

If he lost his job through means that make him eligible for unemployment, he is doing nothing wrong. There are tasks he has to perform every week to remain eligible (plus he has to not work for pay), but those tasks require no specific physical presence anymore, as most job-hunting and -applying is done virtually now.

The early weeks immediately after termination are probably the best time to do that, in fact, because it'll likely be a couple weeks minimum before things reach the in-person interview stage. As long as he's not vacationing in the middle of the Outback or down a well or otherwise somewhere with no phone and internet access, he is probably within the requirements of his benefits.

There is no virtuous obligation on anyone's part to refuse unemployment payments. In fact, all people should take it when they are eligible, so that we do not foster an environment where employers are emboldened to game the system/intimidate employees any more than they already do, or where people who desperately need that money are judged, suffer social/support consequences, or are otherwise punished by judgy people for taking it.

If y'all consider yourselves "socially aware" in the sense of social justice rather than social climbing, try being a little bit socialist just as a thought exercise. Taking benefits for which you are eligible is an appropriate behavior.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:16 AM on February 19, 2016 [28 favorites]

Unemployment is not just for basic survival, although it certainly is and can be used for that. It's also so that unexpected unemployment does not destroy your quality of life or savings. Depressed, miserable people who are panicked about their future do not make great decisions for themselves, nor do they make particularly appealing candidates when compared to happy, confident ones.

Many years ago I lived off of my savings and did not take unemployment because I had a judgemental "friend" such as you. Luckily I had a job lined up before it ran out, and I was able to rebuild it, but that cost me nearly a five figure sum. During that time I spent money making an album. Because it was my chance! When that same judgemental friend got laid off? You can bet your sweet bippy they took unemployment and left their savings in tact. And continued to maintain their standard of living. All I did was needlessly spend my own hard won savings to stay saintly in the eyes of my smug friend. That person, frankly, was not worth my time, let alone that money.

Don't be that person. If you don't like this guy, stop pretending to be his friend.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:16 AM on February 19, 2016 [49 favorites]

I will also point out that if your friend traveled a lot for work they may have lots of airline miles and hotel points. Or a loved one who would like to bankroll them to see them relax with the opportunity to take some time. There are so many ways to do this without spending cash reserves or insurance funds. But it really is, quite literally, not your business.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:21 AM on February 19, 2016 [11 favorites]

Nthing what AugustWest said.
Unemplyment is an insurance policy that you contribute to while you are emplyed.
If your car gets damaged you expect the insurance company to pay to fix it. I tdoesn't matter how much money you have in the bank or if you are taking vacations with that money.
posted by WizKid at 9:24 AM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

As the others have stated, Unemployment Insurance is paid for by the employers. The amount that they pay into the fund is a function of their payroll size and an experience rating. The experience rating is based on the last few years' claims paid on former employees of the company. A company that fires lots of people will pay more into the fund than a company that keeps the people on the payroll. The unemployment agency will ask about the cause of the firing, and will deny coverage for certain egregious acts.

The amount paid by unemployment insurance is determined by the salary level, and how long the employee has worked for the employer. Payments are usually capped, and are not a whole lot of money. In addition, the recipient may be asked to prove that they have searched for employment every week.

This guy may think that he has perhaps 26 weeks to find a job, so it is not a problem. As people who have searched for jobs lately can tell you, it is not so easy.

Finally, now may be the best time to take that vacation. Once the new job starts there will be far less time available. So back off.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:33 AM on February 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I definitely support unemployment fund for people who need it […]

That's probably part of the problem. It's not who needs it, but who is entitled to it. If he was gainfully employed and his firing allowed him to qualify for unemployment that's his to take.

I might scale back some of my future plans if this happened to me, but I also have enough banked that I wouldn't have to worry for about 6 months. So I would probably cancel any vacations I didn't already have booked and paid for, but I am not eating the cost of plane fare if I already have tickets in hand.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am pretty sure I have read some country in Europe that actually provided for vacations for people on unemployment insurance on the grounds that it was good for their mental health. I know when I was unemployed between graduating from school and getting my first job I could have used a vacation. Instead it was lots of looking for positions and applying for whatever seemed remotely relevant. About the only productive thing that I got out of that period was that I built a shed.

If I were to be unemployed now I'd probably take a couple of months off before even thinking of a new job and use it for spending time with people I care about, travel and hobbies, and if was eligible for EI I'd probably stretch that for another month or two. It definitely feels unfair that people with higher paying jobs likely have savings and so can enjoy their unemployment if they want to but I don't know if cutting their rights to a program they've paid in to is the way to go.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:26 AM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

You're allowed to go on vacations while on unemployment as long as you are fulfilling the requirements of whatever the unemployment stipulations are.

When I was "downsized" from MetaFilter (which was sort of a choice on my pat but for many people it's not a choice) this was basically the deal I had to keep me able to pay rent and bills in case I didn't have savings. I had to file a bunch of crap while I was on unemployment (look for work EVERY week, three jobs per week) and they would occasionally randomly call me in to the office for meetings (unemployment meetings like "Hey have you considered taking classes?") which, if I missed them meant I got kicked off of the rolls and had to file for unemployment again. All of this for what was, for me, maybe a few hundred dollars per week. Ultimately it was significantly easier to just find another job.

Your friend may be sort of playing this situation for effect. It's also possible that they had a vacation already planned. But yeah, it doesn't make a ton of sense to just stay home and look for work 24/7, even career counselors suggest a change of scenery for people newly laid off.
posted by jessamyn at 10:29 AM on February 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

If Donald Trump was laid off, he'd be perfectly entitled to file for unemployment. He's paid into the system to be able to take out of it. Lots of retired people don't need social security, but they paid into it and they're entitled to it.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:47 PM on February 19, 2016

What if I have both a pension and social security, for example? Surely my social security should be yanked because I was able to get and hold a job with a pension - after all, just because I paid into social security and am entitled to it under law, that doesn't mean I deserve it, right? Couldn't I just live on my pension?

The federal government does limit the amount of SS you can pull depending on the size of you or your spouse's pension. At least for public employees.
posted by one_bean at 2:03 PM on February 19, 2016

The federal government does limit the amount of SS you can pull depending on the size of you or your spouse's pension. At least for public employees.
That is because they were not required to pay into Social Security in the first place.
posted by soelo at 2:18 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I nth that he's probably just using savings. I have a friend who's been unemployed (and she was working in high-powered jobs) for over a year, but she's still had the money for vacations. I'll admit it freaks me out a bit that she does that, but some people do have frequent flier miles, travel deals, coupons, what have you to make it cheaper as well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:35 PM on February 19, 2016

A family member worked for NYS Department of Labor, but I am not an expert. The current situation is that if you are laid off, you are entitled to a max of $420/week, and you can optionally have federal taxes withheld from that. Also, in NYS, you must certify each week as to how many days you are willing and able to work, so you can, for example, go on vacation from Thursday-Sunday and claim 3 days willing and able to work for the prior week (Mon-Wed).

He's probably using savings and just being a braggart and not talking about the details.
posted by bedhead at 8:37 PM on February 19, 2016

When I was suddenly unemployed due to grand funding cuts in our department, I received a 'food stamp" debit card, which I used at Costco because of the savings on produce and meat. I was a single mom not getting child support, if that matters. I cannot tell you how many people provided their disapproving comments and looks that I had the nerve to shop at Costco using money "they" had given me. I guess that would have felt more comfortable if I shopped at a regular, overpriced grocery store? Seriously, your time would be better spent learning to mind your own business and not judging others on so limited information.
posted by waving at 6:40 AM on February 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

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