Pulling Back The Curtain On COVID Unemployment

I was laid off due to COVID-19 on March 25th from my job as an Executive Director for a small national disaster relief nonprofit. That was 121 days ago.

In that time I’ve been a stay at home dad, Kindergarten teacher, summer camp counselor, job seeker, and penny pincher.

It’s been a terrible 121 days – quarantining, social distancing, unable to really see friends and my family out east. What it has not been is a “paid vacation” to stay home. As we come to the end of the $600 Federal subsidy to Unemployment Insurance, I find myself filled with fear, turmoil, and frankly – anger. Anger at how dismissive and heartless some of my fellow Americans are towards those of us taking the brunt of the economic collapse in the country due to the pandemic.

The Federal subsidy is not “incentivizing me and many others to stay home instead of work” – it’s keeping the lights on, and the food on the table for my kids. Let’s look at some facts, because all that seems to come out of DC, and is regurgitated by ill-informed talking heads, is a politicized take on a humanitarian crisis.

In Minnesota, one-third of the nonprofit sector has lost their jobs due to COVID (https://www.startribune.com/about-a-third-of-all-nonprofit-workers-in-minnesota-have-filed-for-unemployment-during-covid-19/571796602/). That’s 130,000 people from the sector. According to the Star Tribune article, “state data show that the nonprofit sector has been disproportionately hit by the economic crisis during the pandemic, with shuttered events and programs wiping out revenue.”

These are jobs that are hard to start back up – because much of the revenue is dependent on donations. With the overall economy still precarious – people are just not giving right now.

This bears out when you look at the job boards. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits has the largest nonprofit job board in Minnesota. According to a recent article (https://www.startribune.com/minnesota-nonprofit-job-postings-will-include-what-s-long-been-secret-pay/571850621/), the job board, “posted about 1,400 jobs on average per month before the pandemic. Now, that number has slipped to about 650 jobs a month.”

That’s a reduction in job postings of 54%. What’s more – if you think about 130,000 nonprofit sector employees unemployed and 650 job posts a month, it’s going to be a while before the sector comes “roaring back.” Forget rosy outlooks for Q3/Q4, we are going to be feeling this well into 2022.

That is what makes this attack on the $600 Federal subsidy so insidious. The assumption that things are ok, jobs are out there, and we’re choosing not to work because we make more by not working. Every day I look for work – in the nonprofit sector, private sector, public sector. Anything I can find. Anything that helps me pay my bills again and care for my family.

Claiming people are disincentivized to work due to the $600 is insulting to those of us trying desperately to find work every day.

We’ve already addressed the first two issues, so let’s talk about the third – the “third-rail” of life no one wants to talk about, money.

First, let’s set the stage. I am a single parent, with two kids I have half time. This means I do not have a second income in my household to rely on during unemployment – and I have more than just me to take care of. This may not be you, but let me tell you when it comes to the nonprofit sector as well as the hospitality industry (even more hard-hit) we make up a large percentage of the population, if not the majority.

When I lost my job I was lucky – I got a severance. But that was 121 days ago and despite stretching it further than it was intended for, it is long gone. Luckily, I had access to Unemployment Insurance right away when severance ran out, as well as the $600 Federal subsidy. Altogether, that brought me to 75% of my previous salary. I wasn’t living lavishly before all this happened. I made ends meet and I made sure my kids had a safe place to live and food on the table.

To make that initial reduction in income work, I made cuts – trimming my budget by 25%. It’s never easy, but I got it done. And that is the part of this I don’t think people attacking the $600 and those of us on it get. Many of us have already made cuts to get by. We’ve sacrificed. It’s not been easy.

And it’s about to get even harder.

Starting next week, with the loss of the $600, my income drops another 34%. With just Unemployment Insurance, I will be down to 41% of my salary in March.

Stop for a moment and try and imagine that. You’re a single parent, and you have to cut your budget 59%. What do you cut? What do you do? How do you take care of your kids, or yourself as you try and find work in the worst job market we have ever seen?

Have you decided? What will you not pay? Rent? Food? Car payment? How about medical bills for your kids (they do tend to get sick a lot and hurt themselves)? What about medical insurance? Do you enjoy lights? Air conditioning (as we enter yet another excessive heat warning here in the Twin Cities)?

We’re passing the buck, kicking the can. I don’t have a lot of options. I’ve been relying on Minneapolis Public Schools free food boxes for school-age and younger kids. I have a little bit in savings – but it will be gone after a month of this. I have retirement, I may have to tap into that. I have credit cards – I may have to max those out. How is any of that a good option? How have we, as a country, fallen so low that this is what we’ve decided to pass off onto those already hurting?

Four months ago I was an Executive Director, and this week I looked into Food Stamps and Emergency Rental Assistance. Believe it or not – I don’t qualify. Even on just Unemployment Insurance, I make just a little too much – meaning I have it good compared to many others.

Take the politics out of this. Where is our humanity? Where is love thy neighbor as thyself? Where is our compassion, our empathy, our kindness?

This is a time to come together, and work to help those in the greatest need – and there are many who are in far more need than me. Please, take a moment and stop the rhetoric, stop the sound bites, and put yourselves in my shoes. In their shoes. And for just a moment, realize this is not politics or games.

Leave a Reply