Washington After the economy slipped into recession in 2008, millions of Americans received unemployment benefits to make ends meet — including almost 3,000 millionaires.
According to U.S. Internal Revenue Service data, 2,840 households reporting at least $1 million in income on their tax returns that year also collected a total of $18.6 million in jobless aid. They included 806 taxpayers with incomes over $2 million and 17 with incomes in excess of $10 million. In all, multimillionaires reported receiving $5.2 million in jobless benefits.
Those numbers are a minuscule fraction of the 9.5 million taxpayers who reported receiving $43.7 billion from jobless benefits in 2008, up from 7.6 million recipients reporting $29.4 billion in benefits in 2007. Still, economists said they are surprised so many people with seven-figure incomes claimed benefits.
“It’s a larger number than I would have expected,” said Alan Viard, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization. “But people at any income level can lose their jobs.”
The first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits are paid by states. Nationally, benefits average about $300 per week. Because unemployment benefits are insurance, funded with taxes paid by employers, the program isn’t need-based like welfare. A millionaire who loses his or her job is entitled to benefits the same as a laid-off factory or restaurant worker, Viard said.
“Getting an insurance payment doesn’t depend on need but only on suffering an insured loss,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow and expert on tax policy at the Urban Institute, another Washington policy research organization. “We don’t say that your homeowners’ policy shouldn’t pay off if you’re a millionaire.”