7 Ways to Earn Money When You’re Unemployed

Man looking for work on phone
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 Getty Images/PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson

What are the best ways to supplement or replace your compensation when you’re unemployed and short on money to pay the bills, and how will the income impact your unemployment benefits?

Depending on your skill set and the schedule you’re able to work, there are a variety of options for earning money. Even though some industries are in decline and others are in a state of flux, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported job gains in professional and business services, and public and private education in January 2021. Employment declined in leisure and hospitality, retail, health care, and transportation and warehousing.

The gig economy continues to grow. In its “Freelance Forward: 2020” study, remote work site Upwork found that 59 million people in the U.S. worked as freelancers over the past year. According to the study, this represents 36% of the U.S. workforce, and is an increase of 2 million freelancers since 2019. 

If you’re collecting unemployment benefits, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations and how they impact what you can earn before you start checking out options. 

First, check to be sure that you’re collecting all the benefits you’re entitled to. Next, find out how and when to report your income, so you know how to handle your pay. Then, review options for earning money while you’re unemployed.

Check Your State’s Guidelines

Check on the benefits you’re entitled to (you may be eligible for extended benefits if you’ve used all your regular benefits) and on how your extra earnings can impact your unemployment compensation. Guidelines vary from state to state, and you’ll need to meet your state’s eligibility requirements for collecting on a weekly and annual basis. 

How Your Earnings Impact Unemployment

The wages you earn while you’re employed may reduce your unemployment benefits. Because there are no national guidelines for unemployment eligibility, the effect of your stopgap earnings will vary from state to state.

The earnings limit may be a dollar amount or a percentage of your earnings, or continued eligibility could be based on the number of hours or days you work in a week. It depends on your state’s regulations. If you earn over the limit, then you won’t be eligible for benefits for that time period.

For example, in New York, if you work fewer than four days in a week and earn under $504, you may receive partial benefits. Each day or part of a day you work causes your weekly benefit rate to drop by one-quarter.

In California, meanwhile, if you earn $100 or less a week, any amount you earn over $25 is subtracted from your weekly benefit amount and you are paid the difference, if any. 

Use CareerOneStop’s Unemployment Eligibility Finder to learn about eligibility, benefits, and filing in your location, and to get answers to any questions you may have about your claim.

How to Report Your Income

In order to continue to collect unemployment benefits, you must file weekly or biweekly claims, and report any earnings from work you had during the week(s).

7 Ways to Earn Money While You’re Unemployed

There are many options for earning extra money while you’re out of work. You can even mix and match a variety of gigs or jobs to cobble together enough income to get your finances back on track. Here are some ways you can quickly start generating income to help you get by.

1. Check Out “Easily Apply” and “Urgently Hiring” Jobs

Your next job doesn’t have to be your dream job. It could be a stopgap position to tide you over while you continue your job search, and there are positions you can get hired for quickly. In some cases, you won’t even need a resume to apply. 

How to Find the Jobs: One of the best ways to find a job quickly is to use the job sites that have flagged jobs as being available for immediate hire. For example, Indeed notes on job postings when companies are urgently hiring, and when you can easily apply through the site.

Using advanced search options is another way to narrow your search to generate lists of quick-fill positions. Use terms like “hiring now” or “immediate opening” to find listings.

More Job Listings: 10 Best Job Search Websites

2. Advertise Your Availability

Let employers know that you’re available so you can find your next job faster. Indeed’s Ready to Work option shows employers that you can start work immediately. All you need to do is check the box so hiring managers can find you. 

LinkedIn’s Open to Work feature is another way to show recruiters that you’re open to new job opportunities, and available to work right away. LinkedIn reports that job seekers who turned on Open to Work on their profile doubled their likelihood of getting a message from a recruiter. Additionally, members who added an Open to Work frame to their profile picture were 40% more likely to receive InMails from recruiters.

3. Get a Part-Time or Temporary Job

A part-time, temporary, or seasonal job can generate income while leaving you time to search for a full-time permanent role. Again, check to see how working part-time could impact your unemployment benefits when you’re deciding how many hours you’re available to work.

How to Find the Jobs: 

  • Use Bluecrew to find hourly short-term (or longer-term) jobs that fit your location, schedule, and skills. You’ll only need to fill out one application to apply, and then you’ll be able to use the app to select jobs and shifts you’re available to work.
  • Check out SnagAJob to find listings that are urgently hiring within a range of your ZIP code. Add a profile to the site, and you’ll be able to apply with a click of a button.
  • If you’re looking for a remote part-time job, FlexJobs has a list of 30 companies that are hiring now for part-time work-at-home positions.

More Job Listings: The 7 Best Sites to Find a Part-Time Job 

4. Find a Remote Job

If working onsite is an issue because of childcare, family, distance, or other issues, there are flexible remote jobs you can get hired for quickly.

How to Find the Jobs: 

  • Search job sites like Indeed and Monster using search terms such as “remote” and “work from home” to find virtual employment. 
  • FlexJobs has also vetted opportunities for flexible and remote work. There’s a fee, but there are often discounts available. 
  • Search CareerOneStop’s Find a Remote Job portal to search for positions where you don’t need to commute or work onsite every day.

5. Market Your Skills

The growth of the gig economy provides an opportunity to freelance and to market the skills you may already have. Use the skills you have from the job you’ve lost or check out gigs that require a different skill set to get started freelancing.

How to Find the Jobs: 

  • Upwork and Freelancer are two of the largest platforms for finding freelance work. 
  • Facebook Groups often have job postings for group members. 
  • You can also find local opportunities on sites like Craigslist. Check job boards by searching for keyword terms such as “freelance” or “contract” and your job preferences. 
  • Tap your career network, family, and friends to let them know that you’re available for projects.

More Sites for Freelancing: The 10 Best Websites for Freelance Jobs

6. Use an App to Get Gigs

Gig work is an option if you’re seeking a flexible work schedule and a way to monetize your time. Many app-based gig jobs pay immediately, and you can work on demand without committing to a set schedule. Some of the options for gig work include:

  • Caregiving 
  • Cleaning 
  • Fixing and Repairing 
  • Pet Sitting
  • Renting Space
  • Shopping and Delivering 
  • Task Work
  • Transportation
  • Tutoring and Teaching

How to Get the Gig: Check out 16 apps you can use to find on-demand work. Review the hiring requirements, and be prepared with the information you need to apply. You’ll need a smartphone to get started.

7. Sell Your Unnecessary Items 

One way to get cash quickly is to sell the stuff you don’t need. You can trade in devices, electronics, and video games on Amazon. There are many sites and apps you can use to sell clothes and household items. In addition, local sites like Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, or online garage sales are other good ways to sell what you don’t need and generate some quick cash. 

When You Need Financial Support

If you’re in need of financial support, CareerOneStop’s Economic Recovery Portal can direct you to federal, state, and local resources for assistance with housing, finances, food, and health care.

Use CareerOneStop’s State Resource Finder to access state agencies, nonprofits, and other providers of assistance for employment, health care, housing, food, and more.