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COVID & Unemployment

Gig workers worry about losing federal jobless benefits

Mitchell Hartman Jul 23, 2020
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Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Gig workers worry about losing federal jobless benefits

Mitchell Hartman Jul 23, 2020
Heard on:
Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Jennifer Jessie has a one-woman SAT and ACT tutoring business in Woodbridge, Virginia. Heading into the spring, she had lots of work lined up. Then COVID-19 hit in mid-March, and the cancellations started.

“So when people would contact me, I would say, ‘I don’t think there’s going to be an SAT or ACT, and with money being so tight I would hate for you to waste your money,’ ” she said.

Her income’s down from $1,000 per week to less than $200. As a solo business owner, she wasn’t sure where to turn.

“It’s never really clear what I’m able to apply for. So I started with [Paycheck Protection Program] loans,” she said.

She didn’t get one, but she did get on unemployment — through the federal program that opens up benefits to independent contractors and gig workers.

She’s received about $2,000. That kind of money is a godsend in this pandemic-shocked economy, said Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute, calling it “absolutely essential.”

About 10 million or more people who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify for state benefits are getting them now. The federal government’s picking up the tab and adding $600 a week. But that’s about to run out.

“We are talking about a pretty mammoth drop in the income if the $600 is allowed to expire,” Shierholz said.

Take the example of Zac Crofford, a theatrical technical director in Austin, Texas. He’s been able to make it through so far on unemployment. But when the extra $600 from the feds disappears?

“I don’t know. That’ll leave me at $400 a month with Texas’ unemployment benefits, which is impossible to live on,” he said.

Crofford said he won’t have enough to cover basic expenses or keep up his studio and equipment until theaters open again.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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