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Paying the bills when you’ve been out of work

Andie Corban Apr 30, 2020
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A resident looks out an apartment window in New York. For many, the rent is due tomorrow. Angela Weiss/Getty Images
COVID-19

Paying the bills when you’ve been out of work

Andie Corban Apr 30, 2020
A resident looks out an apartment window in New York. For many, the rent is due tomorrow. Angela Weiss/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

For many of the more than 30 million Americans who lost their jobs in the past six weeks, tomorrow is a stressful due date: rent day. We caught up with three people we spoke to last month, when they suddenly became out of work, to hear how their financial lives changed in April.

April Oliver

April Oliver of Boseman, Montana, recently graduated with her master’s degree in biochemistry and landed her dream job. However, her lab closed down before she was set to start working.

Oliver filed for unemployment but was told she didn’t qualify due to a clerical error. However, Oliver received her official job offer because the lab is reopening.

“I have to wait another month until my first paycheck,” Oliver said. “But we feel confident we’ll be able to make bills and credit card payments on time.”

Seth Schulman

Seth Schulman, a musician in Chicago, teaches private lessons at a local school and performs on the weekends. He hasn’t been able to teach his students since mid-March, when the school closed, and live performances have stopped too. Like Maria Barillas, he applied for unemployment insurance over a month ago. However, he hasn’t been able to receive any benefits yet.

“I’ve got a nice enough landlord to let me pay around half of my rent,” Schulman said. “But it feels pretty pathetic having to write a really long email or call them and be like, ‘Hey, things really suck. Can you spare me a bone?’ ”

Schulman recently heard from the school he works at that he can start virtual lessons with his students, which will help him make ends meet.

Maria Barillas

Maria Barillas works as a server and barista at a Brooklyn restaurant that closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak. She almost immediately started collecting unemployment insurance, along with the extra $600 that was added because of this crisis.

“It’s basically given me a full weekly wage,” Barillas said. “I feel confident that as long as I have unemployment, I can pay for stuff.”

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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