Some economists say it is impossible to know how high the unemployment rate will be by the end of the year and what jobs will even exist in six months.
Kelly Flint flourished as a business travel agent for three decades, sending everyone from business titans to oil drills around the world. Then came the worst pandemic in a century that left them unemployed and stuck in an uncertain economy.
Flint has been on leave since March and has gone to her retirement account to pay her bills. He’s frustrated that their $ 600 weekly emergency payments have expired. She also longs for an end to the twin disasters that are now ruling her life: recession and pandemic.
“I don’t deal well with strangers,” she says. “I never.”
Across America there are legions of Kelly Flints, women and men, who don’t know when – or if – they will get another paycheck.
The coronavirus outbreak and the resulting economic upheaval have disrupted millions of lives. Industries have collapsed, companies have closed, jobs have disappeared. Exacerbating misery is a question no one can answer: When will it all be over?
In recent Congressional statements, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated his earlier warning: The strength of a recovery will depend on the nation’s ability to contain the virus. The prospects for the US economy are “extremely uncertain”.
Unsure. If 2020 had to be summed up into a single word – and there are many, many words to describe it – uncertainty would be high on the list. Uncertainty about health. About the future. About the country itself. And uncertainty about livelihoods, jobs and economic security at a historic moment in which every day seems to produce a new wave of undesirable developments.
America previously faced economic disasters, most recently during the 2008 recession when the unemployment rate soared to 10%. That pales in comparison to the two crises that have killed more than 160,000 Americans and led to rising unemployment – 30 million job losses, of which 17.5 million remain unemployed.
“It’s not just the size of the losses,” says Martha Gimbel, an economist at Schmidt Futures. “Until we resolve the public health crisis or have a timetable … neither of us will know what is going on.”
Uncertainty painted by the numbers painted on the landscape. And behind everyone a person.
When she lost her job, she grappled with a flurry of emotions: shock, panic, then determination.
“I went into survival mode,” says Vines. “My faith came in like a ninja.”
Their first task was to examine every possible benefit to the government. Even so, she turned to food banks to take care of herself and her 8-year-old granddaughter who shares her home in Memphis, Tennessee.
Vines was stunned when she was fired from her sales job at a promotional products company in March. She had worked there for 20 years. “You think you are being taken care of,” she says.
A calm set in when Vines inventoried her life and knew she had little savings and a house to sell. “I looked at my granddaughter and said, ‘OK, we’ll make it,'” she says.
You don’t know what the future will bring. One possibility: work for the same company, but on a commission basis. But at 56, she has a philosophy: “You learn what to worry about and what to pray about.”
She is confident that there will be a way forward. “I will either be here or build my peace somewhere else,” says Vines. “I cannot wrap myself up in the unknown when I have blessings in front of me.”
He had a roadmap for his future. A new job in his hometown in rural Michigan. A chance to use your marketing skills. The comfort of living with your parents.
Saigh was desperate to start over after being fired from a marketing firm in the Detroit area in 2019. After half a year of job hunting, Saigh decided that it would be cheaper to continue his search from home. He moved to live with his parents in Iron River on the Michigan Upper Peninsula.
A few months later, Saigh was hired to run a nonprofit affiliated with his local hospital. He would work 5 miles from home, reunite with friends in Iron River, 3,000 residents – and do something positive for his community.
“It was just perfect,” he says. “It was like,” Wow! Everything fits together. ”
Then came the pandemic. The hospitals were under new financial pressure. The offer was withdrawn. Saigh went from a dream job to no job.
It was all about sending out résumés, checking LinkedIn, and searching for interviews during one of the most brutal job markets in decades. “It can be overwhelming at times to go through this again,” he says.
He feels happy and avoids rent and other expenses from his parents. He recently turned down a job offer to head a local business organization. it didn’t seem to fit right, and he feared there might be no more money for the position after the year was over.
Now, Saigh plans to freelance photo and video to find another job. He’s got used to an economy where so much remains unknown.
“I’ve learned that it’s impossible to plan everything, and while it’s a cliché, all you have to do is roll with the punches,” he says. “And I’ve learned to go where the next one takes me. Hopefully it will be soon.”
Every day he confronts reality with too many bills, too little money, a job that is on hold – and no schedule as to when any of it will change.
Jackson is among the tens of thousands of hotel professionals who went broke in an industry devastated by the pandemic. His employer, Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, closed in March because of the outbreak. That left Jackson, an assistant bartender and waiter at a hotel restaurant, and his wife, an elementary school teacher, to care for their three asthmatic children.
You tried to protect them from money problems. “It’s not your job to go out and make things happen,” says Jackson. “As a parent, you don’t want children to feel that the ground is crumbling under your feet.”
The situation is compounded by Florida’s unemployment system, which has been marred by computer problems and lengthy delays. Despite countless calls over the months, 51-year-old Jackson says he hasn’t received a single weekly state unemployment check for $ 275 – even though his last day at work was March 21. This ceiling is one of the stingiest in the country.
The stress has frayed his nerves. His doctor, who waived co-payments for visits, prescribed medication for his high blood pressure, but he cannot afford it. His hair is getting thinner. He gets a migraine.
Jackson and his wife traditionally needed her teaching salary to help, but she was absent that summer. With monthly bills of $ 3,200, the pair regularly face tough decisions. “When you have money,” he says, “do you spend it on gasoline or do you get food?”
Jackson hopes to find a warehouse job for now. He’s worried about having enough food for his children – 8-18 – and being able to afford school supplies, clothing, and everything else they’ll need in the coming months.
He refuses to look too far ahead. “This is an everyday process,” he says, “and I can’t worry about the things that I can’t change.”
He can’t help but believe he’s been the victim of bad timing.
Last year, after getting tired of being an educator, he quit his job teaching French at a private school in suburban Milwaukee. He was hired as a bilingual software trainer and traveled to Canada three weeks a month. He rushed back to the United States in the spring when the border was about to close.
Then, at the age of 46, Lipshutz was suddenly unemployed – something completely new for him. He declared unemployment and joined a support group for the unemployed in Wisconsin. He began to find out how much he could dip into savings that had taken years to accumulate.
“Not having enough money can paralyze you,” he says. He learned this lesson at a young age.
“I grew up with a single mother in the 1980s,” says Lipshutz. “And I know what it’s like to collect government cheese and free lunches and live from paycheck to paycheck and feel this stress of financial instability. … It brings back a trauma from that time: ‘Oh my god, I’m going again have to live like that? ‘”
Lipshutz’s second software project was canceled due to budget cuts. He’s now starting a tofu business with friends. He also expects to be back in the classroom this fall teaching French to Milwaukee public students.
Lipshutz also felt more comfortable and accepted the limits of this chaotic environment.
“There are certain things that you cannot control and you have to let go of them,” he says. “I cannot control the pandemic. I cannot control the labor market.”
“In the back of my mind,” he adds, “there’s still a tiny drawer full of fear and worry. … But I’m starting to say to myself, ‘Listen, you’ll be fine.'”
For them, the pandemic was a health hazard and a job destroyer.
In March of last year, she was forced to quit her job with a marketing firm in North Carolina because face-to-face meetings with customers in large stores were potentially dangerous. The 24-year-old diabetic Githmark has an increased risk of getting seriously ill if she becomes infected with the coronavirus.
“I feel like I don’t have a big purpose now,” she says. She feels like she is “floating around” in life looking for work, and her father is helping redesign her resume. She knows that her job opportunities are limited because she cannot be exposed to large groups of people.
Githmark plans to enroll in a graduate school despite not choosing a field of study. She taught at a charter school in Durham, North Carolina before moving to marketing. She can return to training.
In the meantime, gardening and writing will help release tension. “It was just a very stressful time,” she says, and sighs.
When the Portland, Oregon club where he ran the bar had to close in the early days of the pandemic, he didn’t have time to plan how he would pay his bills. But he knew some routine costs would have to wait.
Topping the list was $ 250 monthly payments he’d made in more than a decade to cut $ 45,000 on student loans. There was no way he could shoulder that. His immediate concerns were food and lodging, and he was pleasantly surprised to find some leeway in paying rent and utilities.
For the past six months, 37-year-old Anderson has relied on state unemployment and $ 600 a week pandemic-related federal benefits that have just expired. In Washington, Democrats and Republicans are arguing over how much and how long this aid should continue.
Anderson was careful about spending. He goes almost everywhere. He has reduced his food budget to the bare minimum. He doesn’t go out with friends. He has become politically active, calling the offices of federal lawmakers and asking them to support a bill that will create a $ 120 billion fund to save restaurants and bars.
And since stressful days give way to sleepless nights, he and his friends pity their common situation.
“You have an overwhelming sense of fear,” he says, repeating the feelings of a friend who said being trapped in the pandemic, “like standing on the bank and seeing this huge tsunami wave coming in. And you know it will strike. But there’s not much I can do about it. “
She’s not one to point her fingers. She knows many others who have looked at the staggering number of unemployed and don’t think so.
“I see a lot of people blaming companies and saying, ‘How dare they fire their employees!'” She says. “But these decisions have to be made.”
Kouskoulas, 30, was fired in April, about six months after he was hired for a copywriting job with a construction company in suburban Detroit.
She is now interviewing for Jobs and preparing for the post-pandemic period. She spends part of each morning honing and expanding her skills, including studying graphic design on YouTube, “so I can come out strong when things get back to normal.” And she speaks regularly to a CEO she worked for and who acts as her mentor.
Shortly after Kouskoulas lost her job, she thought she had a happy break: she was hired to do marketing for a software company. She worked 60-hour weeks, but was repeatedly turned away when she asked for a paycheck. After four weeks she had had enough.
Over the past few weeks, Kouskoulas has felt that the “calm in the economy” that existed a few months ago has subsided and that there are more options. However, she also fears that some employers will consolidate their roles and create fewer jobs with more responsibility.
She is also prepared that what to expect will be “a long haul”.
“At the end of the day,” she says, “I’m the only person who’ll get me out of it.”
The uncertainty ripples outwards. There are so many things that simply cannot be done because of this.
It extends to those who have permanently lost their jobs, as well as workers on leave who are wondering if they will be called back. “People might tell you to retrain,” says economist Gimbel. “What should you retrain for? You don’t know what the economy will be like. Everyone is frozen because it’s so unclear how the situation will play out.”
And long-term planning? Even darker – actually impossible, says Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork.
“We don’t know if by the end of the year there will be 15 million people out of work or 5 million people out of work,” he says. “From top to bottom, everyone in the economy is affected by this uncertainty in one way or another.”
For Flint, 53, the travel agent, job insecurity is new. She’s never been unemployed and it’s “doubly scary” she says because she’s single. Her vacation is late October, but there is no guarantee she won’t be released by then. Every week she sends out new résumés from her Galveston, Texas home. And every day she fights off scammers who call in with fake job vacancies to track down their private information.
“I was scared that I never had before. I even had panic attacks. I had crazy dreams about zombies,” she says. “It has worn me out.”
For Micah Anderson, the insecurity was the hardest part – “having no idea what the next week is going to be”.
“I’m the type who, when I have an idea of what I’m going to do, try to make a plan that makes sense,” says Anderson. “But you don’t really know what to do.”
“You just have no idea. You make decisions the best you can. And you hope they are okay.”
Desiree Mathurin and Haleluya Hadero in Atlanta contributed to this report. Sharon Cohen, a Chicago-based national writer for The Associated Press, can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SCohenAP