Unemployment benefits are payments authorized by each state to eligible individuals. In the United States, federal and state employer taxes pay for the program. In order to qualify for benefits, you must meet minimum criteria. Each state uses a complex calculation method to determine the amount you will receive. Maximum payments vary by state and are based on your highest earnings. However, unemployment benefits average 36 percent of the average weekly wage, according to the Washington Post.

Step 1

Determine your base period. Each state calculates a qualifying base period. In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, you must have maintained employment with qualifying earnings for the first four of the last five calendar quarters prior to your application. For example, if you apply in November 2009, your base period runs from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009.

Step 2

Review your base period earnings. Each state uses the highest pay received within your base period. For example, if you earned $15 per hour from July 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2008, and earned $17 per hour from Nov. 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009, your possible benefits are based on your highest wage.

Step 3

Calculate unemployment payments. Unemployment benefits pay 4 percent "of the total high quarter wages from all covered employment," according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Multiply your highest earning quarter by 4 percent--or .04--to determine the weekly benefit amount. For example, in a state that pays up to $363 per week, if you earned $9,000 from July 2008 through October 2008, your weekly benefit amount would be $360.

Step 4

Contact your state department of labor for a more accurate forecast, and to determine the minimum and maximum benefit amounts. Typically, each state provides some information about weekly benefit amounts. Ask about weekly benefit amounts and base period requirements. In addition, some state websites provide weekly benefit calculators and related charts. See the Resource section for a link to a weekly benefit chart by state.