Especially in a struggling economy, 17-year-olds can find themselves out of a job. Unemployment programs do not discriminate based on age, so a 17-year-old might be eligible for benefits. However, the typical circumstances of workers who are 17 years old may limit their eligibility under unemployment benefit laws.
Laws covering unemployment benefits vary from one state to the next, but several principles apply across the board. The stipulations that cover all claimants, regardless of age, include earning a specified amount of wages during recent employment and being unemployed because of a lack of work or other circumstances outside their control. With certain exceptions, claimants are ineligible if they received a discharge for misconduct or left a job voluntarily.
Many states have stipulations limiting the benefit rights of students, meaning a 17-year-old in high school or college might be ineligible. In the majority of states, students lose their eligibility for unemployment benefits if they leave their job to attend school. This rule is in keeping with the provision that workers must lose their jobs through no fault of their own to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Regardless of the circumstances of their departure from work, many states make all students ineligible for benefits during the school term. Some states even extend the ineligibility to vacation periods. Eligibility for unemployment benefits requires being able and available to accept full-time job offers, and most 17-year-old students would have trouble fitting a full-time job into their schedules. States might make exceptions to this rule if the student can demonstrate -- typically through a prior work history -- that a full-time job will not interfere with school hours.
A 17-year-old who has dropped out of school to join the workforce full-time is eligible for unemployment benefits on the same basis as anyone else. In addition, 17-year-old claimants are likely to be eligible if, instead of attending school, they participate in a training program approved by their state unemployment agency. Approved training might be vocational or technical training. Any participant in an approved program is not subject to disqualification from unemployment benefits for being unavailable to work or not making an active work search.
For 17-year-old workers or anyone else who has worked in seasonal employment, additional restrictions might apply depending on the state. In about 15 states, a seasonal worker is eligible for unemployment benefits only during the operating period of the industry or company for which the employee worked. A 17-year-old who worked for an amusement park that operated only during the summer, for example, would not be eligible for unemployment benefits during the fall, winter or spring.