How To Earn Income When You’re Unemployed

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 24, 2021

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Even though the United States has recovered many of the jobs that it lost during the start of the coronavirus pandemic, 6.3% of Americans are still unemployed. If you’re part of the group, it can be extremely difficult to find the money to pay bills, buy food, and provide for your family.

Fortunately, there are a variety of options for earning some stopgap income to help you along while you’re still looking for a job.

In this article, we’ll discuss the ten most effective methods to earn income when you’re unemployed. Our list will cover a broad range of skill sets and types of activities, to maximize your chances of finding the right option for you.

We’ll also cover what unemployment laws you should research before trying out any of these methods and why it’s important to do so.

Research Your State’s Guidelines Before Moving Forward

If you’re collecting unemployment benefits, earning extra income may affect your eligibility to continue doing so. Make sure to research the unemployment policies relevant to your location before you even start considering any supplemental income opportunities.

As of early 2021, there are currently no federal guidelines that restrict your unemployment eligibility based on how much supplemental income you earn. Instead, states set their own rules on this matter.

For example, these are the basic unemployment eligibility policies in the states of:

  • New York. New York will begin reducing your unemployment benefits once you work at least four days each week and earn $504 or more.

    Any additional day you work during the week will reduce the benefits you’re eligible to receive by a quarter.

  • California. For anyone earning under $100 per week, each dollar they earn over $25 is reduced from their weekly unemployment benefit amount.

10 Methods to Earn Money When You’re Unemployed

Here are some great options for earning alternative income when you’re out of a job:

  1. Sell your extra items. The first and quickest way to earn extra money in a pinch is to sell anything around the house you don’t need.

    Even if you don’t think you have such items lying around, take a look through the closet and you may be surprised.

    Popular websites for selling clothes include Poshmark, Mercari, and Thredup. eBay remains the best option for selling small to medium-sized general goods.

    If you’re looking to sell furniture or other hard-to-ship items, Facebook marketplace Craigslist is a great tool for finding local buyers.

  2. Offer your skills on freelance websites. Depending on your skill set, you may be able to earn considerable income through gig websites such as Fiverr, Upwork, and Craigslist.

    Unless you invest time into making your profiles stand out on these websites, the amount of work you’ll receive will be extremely inconsistent. However, the work requests that you do happen to get will typically be time-efficient and well-worth doing.

    If you choose to provide handiwork through Craigslist, make sure to give the buyer your number and a reminder that you’re available for more work.

    If you did a good job, you’ll often get a call a few weeks or months or later from a friend that they recommended you to.

  3. Apply for “urgently hiring” job listings. Although the point of this guide is how to make money when you can’t find a job, you should at least try applying for local job listings labeled “urgently hiring.”

    In most locations, you’ll find plenty of them no matter which job-search tool you use.

    These job listings are often extremely quick and easy to apply for, sometimes not even requiring a resume.

    All you need to do is spend ten minutes a week applying for the newest batch of local “urgently hiring” listings, and you may just find the perfect stopgap position to help you pay the month’s bills.

    You would expect these job listings to be oversaturated with job offers. Since they’re local, however, you’ll typically have a good shot of receiving at least a job interview.

    If you weren’t able to find work a few months ago and haven’t tried since it’s also useful to know that the job market has recovered more than expected in the meantime.

    As of February 2021, many companies that furloughed their workers or reduced their hours in the middle of 2020 are now ramping-up their hiring process to keep up with rapidly increasing customer traffic.

  4. Drive for a food delivery app. Especially if you’re reading this during the coronavirus pandemic, driving for food delivery apps such as Doordash or Grubhub can be a great way to earn consistent income quickly.

    In certain saturated cities, these apps may ask you to wait weeks or even months before driver spots open up.

    In the vast majority of locations, however, the signup process will typically take only a week or less.

    How many delivery orders and bonuses you receive will again depend on where you live, but most drivers claim an average earnings rate of about $20 an hour.

    For a job that you can pick up at any time to make extra income when you need it, that’s certainly not bad.

    You should also consider signing up for Instacart, a popular and reputable app that allows you to deliver groceries for money. It’s a good alternative to delivering food if you don’t want to put extra miles on your vehicle.

  5. Do surveys and other online tasks. Many websites will pay you to answer surveys, watch videos, and numerous other tasks. The pay rate varies drastically but almost always will be lower than that of a typical job.

    However, the upside is that you can work these sites at any time of day with any free time you have. Whether you’re riding the bus or watching a TV show, these websites provide you with a way to turn spare minutes into an extra bit of needed cash.

    Popular and highly-recommended sites include:

    • Prolific. Answer surveys on a variety of different topics. Each survey takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes and typically pays between $2-10.

    • Mechanical Turk. An Amazon-owned website that connects businesses seeking all types of services and users willing to do them.

    • dScout. Apply for studies by answering a few short questions.

      You won’t always be approved, but the jobs you do get almost always pay over $25 for a few minutes of work.

  6. Work remotely. In case you’re unemployed because you were laid off from an in-person job, there are plenty of opportunities to work digitally as well.

    Using Zippia’s job search tool, you can find work-from-home jobs of all industries and experience levels simply by searching using the terms “remote” or “work from home.”

  7. Earn cash through affiliate marketing. If you already have a blog or website with decent traffic, you can use it to generate some extra income through affiliate marketing.

    This involves posting about a service or product on your website and providing a link for readers to make a purchase. You’ll then earn a portion of any sales generated through that link.

    There are numerous affiliate marketing programs you can sign up for. A few popular options include:

    • Amazon Associates

    • ShareASale

    • ClickBank

    • CJ Affiliate

    If you decide to pursue this route, make sure to research SEO strategies and how to create effective pages that generate click-throughs while still providing value for your readers.

  8. Create an online store. If you’re artistic or skilled in a craft, there’s a great amount of online demand for creative work.

    Websites such as Etsy, Shopify, and Artfire allow you to advertise and create storefronts to sell your unique creations.

    Categories of crafts that tend to sell well include:

    • Jewelry

    • Plushies

    • Woodwork

    • Paintings

    • Mugs and other gift items

    RedBubble and Zazzle are great alternative websites if you specialize in drawing art, rather than in creating physical items. These websites allow you to draw designs and then sell them as t-shirts, phone cases, and other merchandise.

    They’ll handle the actual production of these items, all you need to do is create the visuals to collect a portion of the sales.

  9. Tutor online. Tutoring is a great way to leverage any experience and knowledge that you have into extra income.

    Demand for tutoring services has skyrocketed due to the coronavirus, as many parents feel that their children aren’t receiving enough one-on-one instruction.

    There are two main types of online tutoring jobs available:

    • Domestic tutoring. You can find tutoring work for all subjects and skills levels, from K-12 children seeking homework help to university-level students preparing for specialized economics or physics exams.

      Two popular websites to offer your tutoring services on are TutorMe and Preply.

    • English tutoring. Even with millions of people becoming online English teachers in 2020 alone, there is still massive unfulfilled demand in the space, largely due to a large population of school-age students in China.

      Although you need to be professional and proficient in English, you often won’t even need to create your lessons.

      Popular English tutoring websites like GoGoKid and VipKid will provide you with pre-planned lessons where you just need to follow the script on the screen and answer the student’s questions.

      Although pay will vary by factors such as the quality of your reviews and the types of schedules you can book, many English tutors on such sites tout an average earnings rate of about $24 per hour.

  10. Rent out your property. You likely already know how you can rent out a room in your house through Airbnb.

    However, what you may be aware of is all the other smaller, similar services that allow you to rent out everything from your garage or driveway to your yard and even vehicle.

    Here are some websites where you can leverage such properties to earn extra income:

    • Turo. Turo allows you to advertise and rent out your car to millions of users.

    • This website connects you with locals who will pay to use any spare room in your attic, garage, or basement as extra storage space.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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