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

Which businesses are allowed to reopen right now? And which businesses are actually doing so?

As a patchwork of states start to reopen, businesses that fall into a gray area are wondering when they can reopen. In many places, salons are still shuttered. Bars are mostly closed, too, although restaurants may be allowed to ramp up, depending on the state. “It’s kind of all over the place,” said Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Will you be able to go on vacation this summer?

There’s no chance that this summer will be a normal season for vacations either in the U.S. or internationally. But that doesn’t mean a trip will be impossible. People will just have to be smart about it. That could mean vacations closer to home, especially with gas prices so low. Air travel will be possible this summer, even if it is a very different experience than usual.

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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