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 statistics, 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.
The first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits are paid by states. Nationally, benefits average about $300 a week. Because unemployment benefits are insurance, funded with taxes paid by employers, the program isn't need-based, as welfare is. A millionaire who loses a job is entitled to benefits the same as a laid-off factory or restaurant worker, said Alan Viard, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
In addition to the millionaires, 8,011 households reporting income between $500,000 and $1 million in 2008 claimed jobless benefits totaling $52.8 million, the IRS figures show.
In 2007, so few millionaires collected jobless benefits that the IRS said it refused to publish the numbers for fear their identities could be detected in violation of confidentiality laws.
No IRS figures are available yet for 2009.