COVID & Unemployment

How the loss of $600 a week will impact jobless people we’ve been following

Mitchell Hartman Jul 22, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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An applicant fills out an unemployment benefits form in Virginia. Temporary relief payments are scheduled to end soon. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

How the loss of $600 a week will impact jobless people we’ve been following

Mitchell Hartman Jul 22, 2020
An applicant fills out an unemployment benefits form in Virginia. Temporary relief payments are scheduled to end soon. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Correction (July 23, 2020): Previous versions of this web and audio story mischaracterized Don Darue’s employment status at 101.5 FM Truckee Tahoe Radio and included a misstatement about company employment decisions. They have been corrected.

If federal pandemic money goes away, the average unemployment check nationwide will drop more than 60%, to about $340 a week.

Don Darue and his family have been getting ready.

“We’ve been saving money in anticipation of the bottom falling out of all of this,” he said. Still, they’re facing a financial cliff.

“We were just talking about that this morning over breakfast — what are we going to do?” he said.

In pre-COVID times, Darue could be found most weekdays hosting morning drive-time radio in Truckee, California, a resort area near Lake Tahoe. When the state issued its stay-at-home order in March, the owner of his radio station, 101.5 FM Truckee Tahoe Radio, kept going into the office while all the other employees worked from home.

“We have worked tirelessly to keep our people employed and paid during this pandemic,” Merri Broglio, marketing manager for the station, told Marketplace.

But Darue had already been on leave since February, and after lockdown started, he stayed home to take care of his two elementary school-age kids, who were home from school. His wife still works supervising food services at a local hospital.

He’s been getting around $400 a week in state unemployment benefits, plus $600 a week federal — it’s actually a bit more than he was making at the radio station.

“Which helped things stay pretty status quo in our house,” he said. 

However, Darue still doesn’t know if school’s reopening in the fall. If it doesn’t, he’ll be at home watching the kids.

“If I can’t go back to work, and the COVID relief ends, we are going to have to move. It seems counterintuitive, but during the pandemic, rents have gone up,” he said.

Jody Solell knows what his family’s going to do if the $600-a-week pandemic payment goes away: more of the same.

“We’re pretty frugal,” he said. 

Back in March, Solell was furloughed from his job at a solar-energy installer in suburban Maryland.

“I mean, I cut back as soon as I got furloughed. I haven’t been in a store other than a grocery store since March,” he said. “Our credit card bill is like half of what it normally is.”

The loss of federal unemployment payments might force him to start charging the cards up again. Starting next week, Solell’s unemployment check will be reduced by two-thirds, to just $300 a week.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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