As we approach the end of November, cases of COVID-19 are continuing to rise in the United States. It has been almost nine months, and Americans have only received one stimulus check; federal pandemic unemployment assistance ended three months ago. Twelve million unemployed people are also expecting to lose all unemployment benefits the day after Christmas.
Though infection rates seemed to be decreasing during the summer, governmental negligence and politicians’ determination to put profits over people have caused cases to skyrocket in recent weeks. As restrictions increase in some parts of the country—and notably don’t in others—VICE checked in with six people who lost their jobs back in May to see how they’re faring now.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Some names have been withheld or altered for professional and privacy reasons.
Jade Gomez, 22, Newark, NJ
After losing my jobs as a dog walker and sales associate in March, I thankfully lived off unemployment and some sparse freelancing checks here and there to pay my bills until I found a job processing specimens at a medical testing facility.
My life changed a lot during the time I was unemployed, which was nearly seven months. I became a lot more manic and insecure, and suffered the consequences of being home all the time in various ways. It greatly impacted my personal life and mental health because I had nothing to do with my time. It’s something that I’m struggling to pull away from now that I’m working again.
For the future, I’m going to focus on my health and relationships with the few people I have in my life. I’m trying to learn what it means to be an adult with a full-time job, and that means shedding a lot of who I used to be and accepting that. I’m going to continue to freelance as much as I can and do things that make me happy.
With COVID ramping up again, the biggest privilege of my new job is that it's very secure and close to home. I’m thankful for that security.
Marla, 26, Los Angeles, CA
I have remained unemployed since losing my job as a stripper in March. I began receiving pandemic unemployment assistance in late April. The extra $600 a week allowed me to cover bills and rent without an issue. When the federal PUA expired in July, I moved out of my apartment in Philadelphia and moved in with my boyfriend in Los Angeles. He pays the household bills and rent for both of us. The $207 a week in state PUA covers my car expenses and insurance, phone, and a storage unit where I left behind everything to move to California. I dip into the savings I built from two years of dancing for things like groceries, clothes, and “frivolous” purchases like makeup and baking equipment.
I intend to get by on a combination of state PUA, my boyfriend’s support, and savings for as long as possible. My former clubs in Dallas have been open for months, but there’s little to no mask enforcement. Clubs openly flout local restrictions and most Texas counties have neither the teeth nor the will to enforce those restrictions. I’m terrified of contracting COVID, especially since my work is dependent on my body being active for hours at a time. “COVID fatigue” hasn’t lessened my fears at all. I’m scared of even going to the grocery store. I’m gambling on the availability of a vaccine in summer 2021. I don’t intend on going back to dancing in the clubs until I get a vaccine.
I moved to Philadelphia from Dallas in January with hopes of starting a new life in a new city. COVID completely derailed those plans. Unemployment benefits kept me afloat through the summer, but I couldn’t sign another lease and wait around for the clubs to open again in Philadelphia. I had no intention of moving to Los Angeles until the end of July, when it was clear our federal government abdicated responsibility to prevent us all from sliding into poverty. Relying on my boyfriend for material support has been a humbling experience. I deeply value my financial independence—anyone who once had the earning potential of up to $1,000 per night would—but COVID has shown me that pride is a silly thing to try to hold onto.
My monthly benefits amount in total to what I could have previously expected to make on an average weekend night in the club. Dancing allowed me to spend comfortably without second guessing my financial stability—now I get nervous every time I spend more than $40, even when it’s on necessities like groceries.
I want to move back home to Texas, but several landlords have denied me for housing already. Despite my good credit and rental history, my long-term unemployment and independent contractor status make me a pariah to landlords. I’m unsure where to go or how to move forward from here.
Marlon Snape, 31, Silver Spring, MD
I have not found a new job since being forced to close my hair salon in the spring, but I’ve since reopened my private studio. I’ve been supporting myself with the income from my business and supplementing it with my savings when I’ve had to.
My life and finances have changed in the sense that I’m still being super cautious. Things are not back to normal, which I don’t anticipate will happen for a while, so I always keep that in mind when I spend money. I will still buy things that are not essential for myself and my daughters, but I try not to make it a habit.
My plan for the future is to take it one day at a time. One thing I’ve learned during all of this is that it doesn’t matter how cautious or responsible I am—my livelihood also depends on the public. People who are being irresponsible will affect all precautions I’ve taken if the cases continue to rise. My business will not be able to go back to full capacity, and my daughter will stay in virtual school. I’m sick of these restrictions, like many people, but I understand how important they are. I just wish others would, too. The potential increase in COVID safety measures will affect my business. If restrictions increase, I would have to shut down again.
Mickey, 25, Brooklyn, NY
I have not found a job since being furloughed from my job as a security guard back in the spring. I am currently able to pay rent and bills through donations I’ve received from friends and peers, as well as relief funding from OneFairWage and The Freedom of Press Relief Fund. Due to new management at Citi Field, my former employer, I am expected to be receiving $500 a month from the company starting this November. My life and situation have changed in that I am now living in a new apartment with one other roommate, but for a much higher rent. Because of living in one of the more COVID-impacted zip codes in Brooklyn, I have been more cautious when I go out for food and have stopped socializing or going out recreationally except for walking with friends. My plan for the future is to be optimistic about potential legislation being passed in order to receive unemployment and payments again. Something has to give soon.
Gabby Spear, 27, Brooklyn, NY
Since March, I went from being a furloughed Tenement Museum educator to being laid off along with 75 fellow educators. On July 22, the Tenement Museum laid off 92 percent of their education department. That’s 80 percent of the museum’s unionized staff. The Tenement Museum Union has since filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, while the Tenement Museum continues to provide walking tours to the public—tours that were once union work.
I am paying for rent with the support of the Tenement Museum Union mutual aid fund, the remaining $200 a week I receive in unemployment checks, the money I have saved from the CARES Act, and my parents’ support. Unfortunately, my house’s rent strike ended in the summer and we had to pay our landlord in full. Luckily, I had money saved up from the CARES Act.
I have no idea what the future holds. Most of my job experience is in front-facing customer service work; I was also laid off from my usher job at St. Ann’s Warehouse. I applied to the Tenement Museum three times before I finally got the job. If finding a museum job was bleak pre-pandemic, it feels impossible now.
Because I'm a chronically ill person on Medicaid whose parents have the means to support me, I’ve decided it’s best to not apply for any customer service jobs, of which there are plenty right now, but which are of course becoming even more dangerous as COVID cases rise. Obviously, there are so many people for whom this is not an option, and whose lives are basically being sacrificed for the sake of the economy’s health.
I need what so many people need: rent to be cancelled, another CARES Act, a stimulus for all, and our government to pay us to stay home so we can all be safe.
Meghan Malone, 23, New Orleans, LA
I have gone through two jobs since May: one in retail as a sales associate, which I quit due to low pay, and my current job working as a behavioral technician with children with autism.
My finances have gotten worse over this year. I had to move because my lease was up, and I wasn’t able to collect unemployment. I was unable to find a job for another month, and when I found a retail position, it only paid $10 an hour for part-time work. In New Orleans, restaurants still weren't hiring (this was in August), and I was working at a job that couldn't pay my bills. I found my current job, which pays better and is full time, but I have had to quarantine twice due to COVID exposure and I do not have sick pay. With the holiday season coming up, my job is going to be closed for several weeks since it functions like a school with winter and Thanksgiving breaks and I do not receive holiday pay. I have missed out on several weeks of pay with no way to get it back. My girlfriend has had to pay for most things like groceries because I needed my money for rent and bills, but she can't afford that for much longer either.
I don't know what my plans are, honestly. I had planned to go back to school this spring, but that's not possible financially. If we go into another lockdown, I'll be out of a job again because I work with kids; my job was originally shut down with the schools. I'm just gonna be taking things week by week. I can't think too much about the future now because it's so up in the air. I just hope that we can get some more financial aid, because I am living paycheck to paycheck, and with several missing paychecks coming up, it's gonna be a tough winter.
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