Roseann Schwaderer and Marion McGrath are mad as hell, but there is not much they can do about it. In January, their printing and typesetting company, Serif Press Inc., was socked with an unemployment-tax bill that included a surcharge of $693, and all because the company is located in Washington, D.C.

You see the District of Columbia didn't have enough money to cover unemployment compensation claims, so it borrowed some from the federal government. The problem is, it did not pay the loan back in time. And it was not alone. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and 13 states also failed to repay their unemployment compensations loans by the November 9, 1983 due date.

Granted, the problems may have something to do with continued high unemployment, but some states -- Connecticut, for example -- have not repaid money they borrowed during the previous recession. All this adds up to a staggering debt of $11 billion owed by the 16 delinquent jurisdictions to Uncle Sam.

Upset about this state of affairs, the U.S. Department of Labor imposed a surcharge on employers in these jurisdictions. As a result, there were a lot of companies like Serif press that found themselves with an unexpectedly large bill to pay in January 1984 when they mailed in their last quarterly unemployment tax form for 1983.

"To a business our size " notes Schwaderer, whose company has nine employees, "surprise costs are harsh. Whenever we get hit with taxes we aren't expecting, it makes it hard on us and our cash flow."

As it turns out, Washington, D.C. employers were the hardest hit with a surcharge of $77 per employee. In Connecticut, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, the surcharge totaled $49 per worker, notes Eric J. Oxfeld, employee-benefits attorney for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In Kentucky, businesses got off relatively easy, paying just $21 a person.

Next year's surcharges may be even higher, says Oxfeld, since the 16 delinquent jurisdictions aren't likely to repay the entire debt this year. In addition, other states, whose loans aren't due until late 1984, may be added to the list.

Then again, some states have little to worry about, at least for the moment. Maine for one has repaid the money it owes the federal government. Its 1983 surcharge amounted to zero.


In January 1984, employers in 16 jurisdictions had to pay an unemployment tax surcharge for 1983. The 1984 surcharge will apply to employers in 22 jurisdictions.

Extra unemployment tax per worker

1983 1984

Arkansas $42 $63

Colorado -- 21

Connecticut 49 70

Delaware 42 63

Dist. of Columbia 77 98

Illinois 49 70

Iowa -- 21

Kentucky 21 42

Louisiana -- 21

Michigan 42 63

Minnesota 42 63

Missouri -- 21

New Jersey 42 63

Ohio 42 63

Pennsylvania 49 70

Puerto Rico 42 63

Rhode Island 42 63

Texas -- 21

Vermont 42 63

Virgin Islands 42 63

West Virginia 42 63

Wisconsin -- 21

Source: Eric J. Oxfeld, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.