Not everyone who is unemployed is eligible for unemployment benefits. To collect benefits, you must be temporarily out of work, through no fault of your own. If you don't meet your state's eligibility requirements, your claim for unemployment will be denied.
States measure whether your unemployment is "temporary" by looking at your recent work history. You must have worked a minimum amount of time, earned a certain amount, or both, in order to qualify for benefits. States require employees to meet these minimum requirements during the "base period": a one-year time frame consisting of the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before the employee files for unemployment. For example, if an employee files for benefits in August of 2011, the state will look at the employee's work history during the one-year period from April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011.
For example, California applicants for unemployment must meet one of these two earnings requirements:
Even if you have earned enough money to qualify, it must be in "covered" employment. For example, if you are in business for yourself, those earnings may not qualify.
For more information on these requirements, see What Are the Earnings Requirements for Unemployment?
If you quit voluntarily, without good cause, your claim for unemployment benefits will be denied. Each state has its own definition of good cause. Some states allow employees to collect benefits only if their reason for quitting was related to work (for example, because their working conditions were dangerous and the employer refused to do anything about it). Other states allow employees to collect benefits if they quit for certain compelling personal reasons, such as domestic violence. For more information, see Unemployment Eligibility After Quitting.
Many states allow employees to collect unemployment benefits if they were fired for failing to meet performance standards or lacking the skills necessary for the job. In these states, as long as the employee's failure wasn't intentional, the employee will be eligible for benefits. However, every state disqualifies employees who are fired for serious misconduct, as defined by state law. As is true of eligibility for benefits after quitting, some states are more generous than others in deciding whether benefits should be available after an employee is fired. For more information, see Can I Get Unemployment If I Was Fired?
Even if you are initially found eligible for benefits, the state may later decide to deny your claim if it finds that you are no longer able, available, and actively seeking work. Employees must meet these ongoing requuirements to continue collecting benefits. An employee who isn't looking for a job -- or couldn't take one if it was offered -- won't be eligible for benefits. For more information, see Who Is Eligible for Unemployment?