The District of Columbia increased the maximum rate for unemployment benefits this week from $160 a week to $172. The increase will affect those eligible for the maximum rate, provided they applied for unemployment benefits after Jan. 7.

William Wilkerson, acting associate director of the D.C. Department of Labor, said approximately 30 percent of the 11,300 people who were receiving unemployment benefits during the period ending Dec. 29 received the maximum rate weekly; those figures are expected to remain the same for 1979. The average unemployment check in 1978 was $105 a week, Wilkerson said.

Under the new maximum rate, an unemployed worker must have earned $15,732 while employed in 1978 to qualify for benefits of $172 a week, he said.

The maximum rate is reviewed and set annually. Each year, Wilkerson said, all private and government employers in the city supply the Labor Department with a list of their employe salaries. The new maximum benefit is obtained by taking two-thirds of the average weekly wage of all of these employes, Wilkerson said.

"This is what the federal government has been asking the other states to do," said Wilkerson. He said the two-thirds figure used by the District was established by the federal government before the city was given home rule.

Unemployment insurance laws governing the District of Columbia entitle a person to at least half of the previously earned salary, providing it does not exceed the maximum benefit rate.