Nearly 30 million people collected unemployment benefits in 2020 as businesses shut down across the country due to the pandemic, and about 19,000 of those people reported incomes of $1 million or more for the year, according to new data released by the IRS and analyzed by Politico’s Brian Faler.
The total includes more than 4,000 people who earned between $5 million and $10 million, and 229 people who earned more than $10 million. The high earners received benefits worth $13,900 each on average.
Tax experts told Faler that even people with very high incomes lost their jobs in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, including some who may have been part of a couple filing jointly in which one partner lost their job but the other did not. “Tens of millions of workers were thrown out of their jobs in 2020 and it was a really wide range of people — it included people who had been making really good incomes,” said Amy M. Traub of the National Employment Law Project.
In addition, unemployment benefits were made available at historically unprecedented levels. “People were told they should file for unemployment and they did, and the states generally made it pretty easy,” former tax official Mark Mazur told Politico. “You’d think the millionaires who had that opportunity would be among the most well-advised people.”
In the end, the vast majority of unemployment aid went to people earning less than $100,000 per year. The benefits paid to those earning $1 million or more totaled $264 million in 2020 – less than 1% of the $405 billion paid out overall.