Unemployment before, during and after COVID-19

by Emma Goad and Carson Woodard | Special to The Herald

Alex Clark | Life Editor

    In the wake of COVID-19, the majority of local and corporate businesses found it difficult to keep up with the financial changes that occurred. Many companies lost money because of business closures while some fought to stay afloat in a time where nothing was certain, and the people who depended on their employers to make ends meet were the ones who saw the biggest struggle. 

    Students that pay for their own education and housing were having as hard of a time as full time employees of companies that found themselves scraping by when their departments were shut down in budget cuts. While some were able to find other jobs at essential businesses, the amount of money they made prior drastically shifted. These changes are what lead to the unemployment spike in March of 2020. 

    In 2019, Starbucks employee, Micah Booker, was working 70-80 hour work weeks at her current job, Red Lobster, and a non-profit organization to pay for school and to get ahead of student debt. Come January 2019, her first loss was the non-profit job. When the pandemic hit in February of 2019, Booker was furloughed from Red Lobster. 

    “It just made things really uncertain,” Booker said. “I was saving money to pay for school, and to pay off some school debt so I could get my transcripts, so it just made things really really uncertain for me in terms of how am I gonna pay my bills, how am I gonna make sure I’m consistently paying, saving money for my debt, and I was a hostess so obviously even if we went to a takeout model, my job became obsolete. I had no idea what was gonna happen in March when things first shut down. It was rough.”

    After losing two steady wages, Booker attempted to file for unemployment. She was denied, initially, and then she filed for a PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) through her non-profit organization. Shortly after receiving PUA, Booker was granted regular unemployment benefits as well. While Booker said the money was like a godsend at the time, there were issues that arose following. 

    “I called and they said to think of it as a supplement,” Booker said. “It helped keep me afloat and pay for some extra things so I could move forward. The crazy thing is, they tried to get me to pay back the PUA just recently. They sent a letter saying I was overpaid, so that was a fun experience. It was literally just like $1000. Is the government really penny-pinching over $1000? I had to fill out a six-page questionnaire and I haven’t even gotten a decision back. I’m assuming they dropped it or I’m hoping my answers were good enough.”

    Booker isn’t the only student affected by job loss that had issues filing for unemployment. Andrew Rodriguez, first year teacher at Harrisburg Elementary, was a junior in college when the pandemic initially hit. Rodriguez lost his job at Allen Park, a government owned community center in Jonesboro, and he filed for unemployment March of 2019. 

    “I really had a stressful few months,” Rodriguez said. “Between paying bills, taking classes full time, and a car payment, I didn’t have practically any money saved. The issue with unemployment is that no one could’ve prepared for that, and the office we spoke to was not equipped to help us at all.”

    Rodriguez said he got unemployment checks for two months before they stopped showing up in his account. He is now working days as an elementary school teacher and nights at Allen Park in order to try and pay back some of the debt he accumulated in the 2019 year. 

    “I ended up having to open a credit card to make my car payments as well as gas and groceries,” Rodriguez said. “And teachers don’t make enough money as is, so even without the debt looming over me, I’d still probably need my job at Allen Park. It’s really crazy to think that we, as a country, failed in taking care of the people first.”

    Booker said that she wishes our government would have taken tips from other countries in order to keep employment issues under control.

    “I think the way the government handled the unemployment situation is wrong. I look at what places like Germany did, they tied the money they were giving their citizens to their jobs, so basically you were getting something like 80% of your original paycheck and it was still tied to the company and payroll,” Booker said. “The United States forced millions of people into an uncertain system and cut them off from their jobs. It created a lot of uncertainty, it disconnected people from jobs, it helped destroy small businesses, and you wonder why there’s a labor shortage, especially in areas like retail, fast food, restaurants, and healthcare. It just created a mess.”

Categories: #Life

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