Unemployment 2020

For furloughed workers, the psychological toll can be as heavy as the economic one

Erika Beras Oct 1, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Being furloughed, combined with the struggle for social justice and the uncertainty around the election and the pandemic, can be overwhelming. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Unemployment 2020

For furloughed workers, the psychological toll can be as heavy as the economic one

Erika Beras Oct 1, 2020
Being furloughed, combined with the struggle for social justice and the uncertainty around the election and the pandemic, can be overwhelming. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Last week, more than 800,000 Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits. As tens of thousands more brace for job losses this week or in the future, we checked in with furloughed workers and looked at the economic and psychological impact being furloughed has had on their lives.

Back in April, Monica Harris was furloughed from her digital marketing job in the Atlanta area. At first, she was optimistic.

“Maybe this is the time I need to just be like doing other stuff, working on some passion projects, just stuff like that,” she said.

Then her furlough was extended, and her extra unemployment benefits ran out. Besides fretting over her job, she spent the summer worrying, “I hope I’m not the next Breonna Taylor; I hope my fiancé is not the next George Floyd,” she said.

Now she expects to be out of work for the rest of the year.

“Last month was probably the hardest out of the whole time I haven’t been working that I really was feeling like, ‘Oh my god, like, am I going to be OK?'” she said.

The pandemic, the struggle for social justice, the uncertainty surrounding the election — add in unemployment — and the stress can be overwhelming, said Art Goldsmith, an economist at Washington and Lee University who studies how joblessness affects mental health.

“All sorts of insecurities undermine emotional well-being,” Goldsmith said. “And this is a classic case of that, because you just don’t know and employers don’t know either.”

PSA Airlines flight attendant Danita Grasty starts her furlough Thursday.

“I live right next to the Philadelphia airport. So whenever planes go to land or take off, I hear them and it’s sad,” Grasty said. “It’s very sad.”

As is not knowing whether she’ll go back to work on a plane.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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