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COVID-19

Do unemployment benefits in the time of COVID-19 cover the cost of living?

Mitchell Hartman Apr 23, 2020
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The benefits vary from state to state, though right now, recipients also qualify for $600 a week in federal pandemic unemployment benefits. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Do unemployment benefits in the time of COVID-19 cover the cost of living?

Mitchell Hartman Apr 23, 2020
The benefits vary from state to state, though right now, recipients also qualify for $600 a week in federal pandemic unemployment benefits. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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On Thursday morning, the Department of Labor shared that another 4.4 million people signed up for unemployment in the week ending April 18. American workers filed a shocking 26.5 million first-time claims in the last month, according to the seasonally adjusted numbers, driven by pandemic layoffs.

How far can these checks go for those out of a job?

More than 1 million Texans have applied for unemployment. Amber Bradshaw is among them.

“I stopped working, I think my last day of work was … I’m sorry I’ve really lost track of time,” Bradshaw said.

She and the team she manages at a furniture store were furloughed last Friday. She expects to get $521 per week on unemployment, plus $600 per week in federal pandemic benefits.

Enough to cover her bills? “For me it is, and for my staff it will be also,” Bradshaw said.

But benefits might fall short for her relatives in California, where the cost of living is higher. And benefits vary widely, says Michele Evermore at the National Employment Law Project.

“You see anything from $213 on average in Mississippi, to $555 in Massachusetts,” Evermore said.

The average nationwide is $370. Add that to the pandemic benefits and it totals $970, about the same as the average weekly pay of Americans nationwide.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

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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