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COVID-19

Not everybody out of work due to COVID-19 will be counted as unemployed

Mitchell Hartman Apr 16, 2020
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City employees hand out unemployment benefits applications to people in their cars on April 8 in Hialeah, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Not everybody out of work due to COVID-19 will be counted as unemployed

Mitchell Hartman Apr 16, 2020
City employees hand out unemployment benefits applications to people in their cars on April 8 in Hialeah, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The 5.2 million new claims for state unemployment benefits released Thursday morning reflect a massive amount of job loss for American households in a really short period of time. Just four weeks ago, 22 million more people were working. Now, one in seven Americans who were employed before the pandemic have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

These weekly initial jobless claim numbers, reported by the states to the Labor Department, don’t tell the whole unemployment story — they’re likely understating the true level of unemployment.

Some people just aren’t applying for unemployment benefits. Take Darius Brett Windley.

“[On] February 5, I started tending bar and waiting tables at a little family restaurant about 11 miles south of where I’m at,” he said.

That’s northeastern Nebraska, where Windley and his wife operate a small farm and produce stand. Working at the restaurant was going to provide extra income — until it shut down in mid-March. Windley used to be a union ironworker, and he’s been on unemployment before.

“It was such a hassle,” he said. “I would rather take a beating than try and go through unemployment again, on a system that’s broken down and just not working.” He won’t be counted among the unemployed.

Immigrants without authorization to work aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Yannan Collins, 28, is originally from China and now lives in Texas; her application for a green-card is pending. She was working for an HR firm as an independent contractor, but the firm shut down.  

“I don’t have income, and I can’t apply for unemployment,” she said.

Some people aren’t working or earning income, but they haven’t lost their jobs. Nate Edwards, a manager for a national rental car company in St. Louis, was furloughed in early April along with many of his co-workers. His wife is still working as a corporate attorney. 

“We have enough saved up, [and] we can cover our expenses for the next couple months,” Edwards said. He won’t apply for unemployment unless his furlough turns into a permanent layoff.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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