COVID-19

A hair stylist choosing between her livelihood and flattening the curve

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst Mar 25, 2020
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Ashley Nelson, a hair stylist at the Collab Salon in Boise, Idaho, recently decided to stop taking appointments because of COVID-19. Arlie Sommer
COVID-19

A hair stylist choosing between her livelihood and flattening the curve

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst Mar 25, 2020
Ashley Nelson, a hair stylist at the Collab Salon in Boise, Idaho, recently decided to stop taking appointments because of COVID-19. Arlie Sommer
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As calls for social distancing increase around the nation, independent contractors are being forced to make tough choices. Ashley Nelson, a hair stylist in Boise, Idaho, and one of the 10 people we’re profiling in our series, United States of Work, recently chose to stop taking appointments even while the salon she works in stayed open. 

“It was a really tough decision to make,” she told Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal. “There wasn’t anything mandated by the state or the governor or anything, but I was just seeing my fellow colleagues and friends across the country doing what they had to do to take care of the community around them. So I just had to take it into my own hands.”

Ashley announced her decision on Instagram. “I watched people bring their kids in for appointments, I heard the phone ringing with people trying to book new appointments, and others’ clients trying to ‘fill gaps’ for us by sending their kids into the salon,” she wrote in the caption. “It hit me, that we’re the problem. I’M THE PROBLEM. As a hairstylist, I was drawing people out into the public and not helping the issue!”

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The weight of what's happening has been heavy, my friends 😞 As a hairstylist, one who leases a chair in salon, who pays to be at work, who doesn’t get paid for sick leave, vacations or who can not colllect unemployment, the decision to stop taking clients was/is super hard for me. I’m scared of the unknown. I’m afraid of how long this can go on for, but I know I have to put my fear away and think about the health of other people. I understand that we all need to make money to survive, but as I worked yesterday, I realized nothing was stopping people from coming to get their hair done. People want to get out of their house, and people want to get their hair done, so if you’re offering a service, they’ll probably come. Yesterday all my clients kind of knew they shouldn’t be there, but all showed up because they know how tight my books are and was worried it would be months before getting back in. Throughout the day, I watched people bring their kids in for appointments, I heard the phone ringing with people trying to book new appointments, and others clients trying to “fill gaps” for us by sending their kids into the salon cause their out of school and need appointments as well🙆🏼‍♀️ It was after watching an elderly woman who was like a hundred years old, come in, that it hit me, that we’re the problem. I’M THE PROBLEM. As a hairstylist, I was drawing people out into the public and not helping the issue! I was worried about my well-being and not about others. Yes, I’m healthy. Yes, I’m disinfectanting my station, tools and chair, but what’s to say that’s enough. We don’t have all the answers right now and we don’t know how bad this really is. As someone who leases, I waited to see if the salon would make that decision but it wasn’t happening, so here I am. 🤷‍♀️ I’m taking action. I’m choosing to care about the well-being of myself and others and do whatever part I can do to make this situation better. Yes, the salon I work at is staying open, but as of today, I’m closed and not taking clients. I’m doing my part for my clients, and my community and I know this is the right choice for me ❤️ 📸 @dreaortiz30

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Ashley is an independent contractor. She leases a chair at a salon. That means she doesn’t have vacation time or sick leave to cash out and can’t collect unemployment benefits while she’s not working. 

She said she has the means to pay her bills while out of work but knows that’s not the case for every stylist. “I mean, if you’re a mom or if you’re worrying about paying for your rent so you have a home to go to, but then you have to pay for the workspace that you’re not actually able to go to and make money? That’s where it gets a little bit difficult for people that work for themselves,” she said. 

Soon after Ashley announced her personal decision to stop taking appointments, the salon she worked at closed its doors.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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