COVID & Unemployment

Gig workers worry about losing federal jobless benefits

Mitchell Hartman Jul 23, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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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
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:
COPY

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

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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