Unemployment is difficult. For many, it's downright tragic. But at least when the hammer falls there's the guarantee of a half year's worth of benefits through the government's unemployment compensation system.
Unless you work for the church. Churches and religious organizations are exempt from paying unemployment taxes, which fund the system.
During another brutal economic environment — the Great Depression — Congress enacted the Federal Unemployment Tax Act in 1935. The act called for a cooperative federal-state program of benefits to unemployed workers. It is financed by a federal excise tax on wages paid by employers in "covered employment," explains attorney and certified public accountant Richard Hammar, in an article titled "The Church as Employer: Unemployment Taxes" (Church Law & Tax Report).
The federal act was amended in 1970 "to exempt service performed in the employ of a church … or an organization which is operated primarily for religious purposes and which is operated, supervised, controlled or principally supported by a church," says Hammar.