Ranking Unemployment Insurance Taxes on Our 2022 State Business Tax Climate Index

April 26, 2022 10:50 am Published by Comments Off on Ranking Unemployment Insurance Taxes on Our 2022 State Business Tax Climate Index

Today’s map examines another major component of our 2022 State Business Tax Climate Index: unemployment insurance (UI) taxes. Compared to individual, corporate, sales, and property taxes, UI taxes are less widely understood, but they have important implications for a state’s business climate. A state’s performance on the UI tax component accounts for 9.8 percent of that state’s overall Index score.

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal-state social insurance program that finances benefits for recently unemployed workers through taxes on employers. State unemployment insurance tax systems are often quite complex, using variable-rate structures that impose different rates depending on the age of a business, its layoff history, and the health of the state’s UI trust fund, among other factors. All 50 states and the District of Columbia levy UI taxes, but some states structure their systems better than others.

The least-damaging unemployment insurance tax systems are those that adhere closely to the federal taxable wage base, have low minimum and maximum tax rates on each rate schedule, avoid levying surtaxes or creating benefit add-ons, and have straightforward experience formulas and charging methods. More harmful UI tax systems are those that have high minimum and maximum rates, wage bases that far exceed the federal level, complicated experience formulas and charging methods, and surtaxes or benefit add-ons that go beyond the core functions of the UI program.

On this year’s Index, the states with the best-scoring unemployment insurance tax systems are Oklahoma, Florida, Delaware, Missouri, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The worst-structured UI tax systems are found in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Idaho, Maryland, and Nevada.

Ranking Unemployment Insurance Taxes on Our 2022 State Business Tax Climate Index How Does Your State Rank on Unemployment Insurance Taxes?

The climates created by UI policies can differ greatly. Some states have high statutory minimum and maximum tax rates that apply to large taxable wage bases, while others have low minimum and maximum rates and low taxable wage bases. For example, Arizona, California, Florida, and Tennessee align their taxable wage base with the federal base of $7,000 per employee, while other states extend the taxable wage base far beyond the federal minimum, so that the tax is applied on tens of thousands of dollars of each employee’s wages. (Currently, Washington is the state with the highest taxable wage base, at $56,500.) Rates can only be understood in tandem with wage bases. A 10 percent tax on a $7,000 wage base raises $700, while the same rate on a $49,800 wage base generates $4,980.

Another important consideration is a state’s experience rating formula, which varies from state to state. The concept behind experience ratings is that each employer’s UI tax liability should be adjusted by their own past experience with layoffs. Companies with frequent layoffs face greater liability than companies with steadier track records. But there are different ways that these ratings can be calculated, and different approaches for handling new businesses which have yet to develop a meaningful track record. Some states lean more heavily on aggregate state “experience,” while others focus more specifically on individual businesses. Some use what is called a benefit ratio formula, based on the ratio of unemployment benefits to payroll. Others use a benefit wage ratio formula, or a reserve ratio formula, defined as the balance in the employer’s state unemployment insurance account divided by payroll.

One of the most harmful aspects of UI taxes is that financially troubled businesses, for which layoffs may be a matter of survival, are shifted into higher tax rate schedules when they can least afford to pay a higher tax bill. Failing businesses face ever-higher UI taxes, sending them into further decline. Similarly, surtaxes imposed when UI fund reserves are low mean higher tax liability right when businesses are struggling most. Well-designed UI tax systems emphasize greater stability and predictability, especially in times of economic downturn.

To read more about how UI tax systems are evaluated in the Indexclick here.

To determine whether your state’s unemployment insurance tax has risen or fallen in the ranks in recent years, see the following table.

Unemployment Insurance Tax Component of the State Business Tax Climate Index (2019–2022)
State2019 Rank2020 Rank2021 Rank2022 RankChange from 2021 to 2022
Alaska354644431
Arizona136811-3
Arkansas34232333-10
California17222123-2
Colorado40434041-1
Connecticut232122220
Delaware33330
Florida22220
Georgia383938371
Hawaii26282529-4
Idaho484847470
Illinois424042402
Indiana112527252
Iowa333536342
Kansas15141416-2
Kentucky474948480
Louisiana4445-1
Maine24323235-3
Maryland28333346-13
Massachusetts505050500
Michigan491718711
Minnesota253431301
Mississippi5556-1
Missouri89743
Montana212020191
Nebraska9111113-2
Nevada454746451
New Hampshire44454344-1
New Jersey32303032-2
New Mexico108981
New York313837361
North Carolina7101012-2
North Dakota14131394
Ohio67610-4
Oklahoma11110
Oregon37363539-4
Pennsylvania4642392118
Rhode Island293149490
South Carolina27262427-3
South Dakota394441383
Tennessee222426206
Texas18121214-2
Utah161517170
Vermont201616151
Virginia434145423
Washington19191924-5
West Virginia302928262
Wisconsin413734286
Wyoming36272931-2
District of Columbia33353639-3
Note: A rank of 1 is best, 50 is worst. All scores are for fiscal years. DC’s score and rank do not affect other states. Source: Tax Foundation.

To learn more about how we determined these rankings, read our full methodology here.


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