COVID-19

For workers in the funeral industry, an unprecedented year

Florian Martin Mar 2, 2021
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Business increased at Leal Funeral Home in the Houston area, along with distress. Florian Martin
COVID-19

For workers in the funeral industry, an unprecedented year

Florian Martin Mar 2, 2021
Heard on:
Business increased at Leal Funeral Home in the Houston area, along with distress. Florian Martin
HTML EMBED:
COPY

More than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 nationwide.

Economically, this has boosted the funeral industry, but it has also put heavy demands on funeral workers.

In the early days of the pandemic, many funeral homes lost revenue as demand dropped for some of their services.

During that time, Manuel Guerra was laid off from his job as a funeral director in Houston.

“When the corona first came out, a lot of families and a lot of funeral homes were doing only cremations,” he said. “And maybe just have a memorial service, you know, with just a few people present, but not the body present.”

But Guerra didn’t have to wait long for a new job as infections and deaths surged in the summer. He is now the funeral director at one of four branches of another Houston company, Leal Funeral Home. And the job has kept him busier than ever.

“We had almost 39 funerals in one week,” Guerra said. “That’s what some funeral homes do in one month.”

Having worked in the funeral industry for 40 years, Guerra is used to seeing death. But this has been different.

“We had a wife — young — that died in the beginning of one month. And four weeks later, her husband died,” he said. “It’s just sad. It’s tragic.”

Guerra said he himself has lost four family members to COVID-19.

Manuel Guerra, funeral director at Leal Funeral Home in South Houston, experienced both a lay-off and being overwhelmed with work since the start of the pandemic.
Manuel Guerra, funeral director at Leal Funeral Home, has been both laid off and overwhelmed with work since the start of the pandemic. (Florian Martin)

In addition to more burials, funeral homes have had to do more to help overburdened hospitals and medical examiners. 

“All those things that we normally handle, those have all been challenged and exacerbated,” said Harvey Hilderbran, executive director of the Texas Funeral Directors Association.

Many funeral companies are also making more money during the pandemic. Houston-based national funeral giant Service Corp. International reported recently that it brought in $280 million more revenue in 2020 than in the previous year. The company pointed out “significant challenges,” though, and thanked front-line workers for continuing to focus on “the importance of the safety of our client families, communities, and colleagues.”

At Leal Funeral Home, Manuel Guerra said he hopes the vaccine will start to make a difference.  

“And I pray,” he said, “that the cure is around the corner.”

He is a step closer to getting that protection. Guerra recently received his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

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

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins 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.

Give me a snapshot of the labor market in the U.S.

U.S. job openings in February increased more than expected, according to the Labor Department. Also, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in March. For all of the good jobs news recently, there are still nearly 10 million people who are out of work, and more than 4 million of them have been unemployed for six months or longer. “So we still have a very long way to go until we get a full recovery,” said Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the industries that have the furthest to go are the ones you’d expect: “leisure and hospitality, accommodations, food services, restaurants” and the public sector, especially in education.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

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