New Orleans There was a special section in the New York Times recently where their reporters did a follow-up with workers from all around America that they had talked to during the pandemic to see how they were faring now. That was a super depressing read!
The bottom line was clear. Unemployed workers were able to survive when the stimulus was in place with unemployment plus $600 per week, but since July, when the money ran out, but the pandemic depression ran on, they have been barely surviving. The meager allotment of unemployment benefits just doesn’t make it for most workers. What should be disturbing to the White House and the Senate Majority is that this is not just true for lower wage service workers, but even for workers with multiple degrees in tech and the sciences. You know what I’m saying: white people in the ‘burbs! The other point that was inescapable, as I read the reports, is the number of workers of all varieties that were only making it because they had managed to find skinny little part-time jobs or jump into the “gig” job market, which hasn’t looked to pretty during the pandemic either.
One woman with a technology masters’ degree, three kids, and a partner was making it by working to deliver groceries for two different companies. In her case, there was a somewhat happy ending when they reported that she was able to finally get a job, three days before they would have lost the house to foreclosure, and would have been homeless. She had gotten to the 4th and 5th round for many jobs but was facing competition usually from 200 or more applicants. She had resorted to saying that she was willing to move anywhere from their home in Montana for a j-o-b. She was also increasingly hiding the fact that she was a mother with children, because she could sense that was one of the reasons she was not getting hired. Researchers have now found that 1.2 million workers, inordinately female, have been pushed out of the workforce during the pandemic because of school closing issues alone.
A woman bartender from Kentucky, who was laid off after her boss got PPP money from the CARES act and was a single mother with two children, told how she had “spent nine hours a day on hold for a week before…[she]…got her first check” from unemployment. After three months she was able to get a part-time job for only two nights per week with early closings, and she’s still waiting for her thirteen-week extension to kick in.
Others hadn’t been able to find anything. They had lost health insurance. They were stocking shelves. They were teaching their children. The DOL reports that there are huge numbers of workers being pushed out of the workforce because unemployment has ended and job searches have stalled as the economy continues to only slowly recover and to lag especially in the service sector.
We learned something during the stimulus. Workers have to have it! America is no longer the site of the gig economy, but instead is full of precarious workers at every level.