The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act substantially expanded Unemployment Insurance (UI) in order to help workers losing jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One provision of the act creates an additional $600 weekly benefit known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The size of the payment—$600—is designed to replace 100% of the mean US wage when combined with mean state UI benefits.

New research (Ganong, Noel, Vavra, 2020) finds that as designed, the ratio of mean benefits to mean earnings in the data under CARES is roughly 100%. However, this masks substantial heterogeneity. For example, 68% of unemployed workers who are eligible for UI will receive benefits which exceed lost earnings. The median replacement rate is 134%, and one out of five eligible unemployed workers will receive benefits at least twice as large as their lost earnings. Thus, the CARES Act provides income expansion rather than replacement for most unemployed workers.

This calculator estimates the distribution of lost earnings replaced by UI and how these replacement rates vary across states and income levels.

NOTE: These estimates are for the May 2020 draft of the paper. A newer draft of the paper with updated estimates is available here.


The authors find the weekly earnings for low, middle, and high incomes by calculating the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles of the distribution of wage income among benefit-eligible unemployed in the Current Population Survey (CPS). To be eligible, a worker must be a job loser, meet an earnings threshold set by their state, and have been unemployed for less than 12 weeks. It is assumed that the worker worked 50 weeks in the prior year, which is consistent with median reports of weeks worked in the CPS. To calculate the national estimates the authors take an average of the state estimates, weighting by population. Benefits are calculated assuming that the worker has no dependents.

Disclaimer: This calculator is designed for the illustration of policy only. Calculations of benefits are estimates and may differ from actual benefits for a number of reasons. If you are seeking an estimate of your own benefits, you should inquire with your state UI agency.


View Working Paper  View the Economic Finding