What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us
COVID & Unemployment

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

Erika Beras Oct 1, 2020
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
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
COVID & Unemployment

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

Erika Beras Oct 1, 2020
Heard on:
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

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.”

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.