'My Bank Account Has $4': Pandemic Has Left Millions Of Livelihoods In Limbo
Lilli Rayne's dog-walking business was taking off and she was finally preparing to buy a house. Then the pandemic struck. She's among the millions of Americans struggling to stay afloat right now.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
As a new year looms and a traumatic one comes to an end, the work of processing the ongoing pandemic has just begun - collectively grieving what is gone while trying to move forward. And so we are looking at what we've lost in 2020. Today's installment - livelihoods.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I really lost everything during this pandemic.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: My business has dried up in the last few months.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I've lost the life I was very proud of having built.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I don't have the money from the gigs we were playing.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Things are just bottom up. I've drained my savings.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: After a couple months, my landlords were as lenient as they could be.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I had a credit score that I could have eventually finally bought a home with. And now, my credit score's back damaged so heavily that it will not be repaired for a very long time to come.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I'm making half of what I did last year. I've lost my car. I've lost my apartment.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: And it just wasn't enough at the end of the day. And they gave me an eviction notice.
KELLY: In a moment, an economist explains how an uneven downturn will likely lead to an uneven recovery. But first, NPR's Lauren Hodges introduces us to a woman who lost her financial security this year and how a job loss leads to so many other losses.
LAUREN HODGES, BYLINE: An overwhelming number of people are unemployed right now - more than 10 million - which means many Americans are feeling helpless right in the middle of what has become the worst surge of the coronavirus pandemic.
JASMINE DOAKES: I'm not doing too well right now because I'm actually battling COVID and pneumonia.
HODGES: That's Jasmine Doakes, from Cincinnati, Ohio. She lost her job as a customer service representative for Delta in August.
DOAKES: It really sucked because I was so excited about this year and working and just growing there. And all these plans of getting to my 10th year at Delta.
HODGES: The job and its benefits are a big loss to Doakes, especially since COVID and pneumonia aren't her only health worries. She's battling lupus. And after losing her health insurance, she can't afford the treatments anymore.
DOAKES: It's been pretty difficult because last year, I had to go through some chemo treatments for lupus, and so I'd been off a lot on medical leave.
HODGES: That medical leave turned out to be a huge obstacle when it came to applying for unemployment.
DOAKES: I wasn't approved because they said, well, you didn't work enough last year (laughter).
HODGES: Doakes is looking for work, but she can't leave the house in her condition, so her bills are piling up. New data from the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame found that nearly 8 million people had slipped into poverty since this summer. The academics behind the data blame the jobless situation and a safety net with holes big enough for many to fall through. Doakes is looking at her own safety net now. She says she'll probably have to move back home with family soon.
DOAKES: But I'm grateful because I'm still alive.
HODGES: And during a pandemic that's claimed more than 300,000 lives, that's something Doakes knows she can't take for granted.
KELLY: That was NPR's Lauren Hodges. Now, to learn more about who is out of work and the ripple effect that follows when a job is lost, we reached out to Michelle Holder, associate professor of economics at John Jay College, City University of New York. Holder told me that industries like retail, leisure and hospitality have been disproportionately gutted by the pandemic.
MICHELLE HOLDER: These do tend to be lower-wage jobs, customer service-oriented jobs. And because the customers weren't there, you know, these workers really were not needed to the same degree that they were before the pandemic. But a lot of these jobs are working-class, blue-collar jobs. And the loss of these types of jobs really has been devastating, I'd say, for middle America.
KELLY: Well, let's dig in on that and this central question of what we have lost. When we talk about a person losing their job, there are so many ripple effects from that. I'm thinking of savings. I'm thinking of health care, in some cases. I'm thinking of your credit score.
HOLDER: There are so many ramifications. And so, you know, for people who lose their jobs, they are at risk of losing their homes, food insecurity. There are plenty of families that have lost everything because they're not able to pay for unexpected health care issues. So losing a job is the very beginning of a kind of domino effect, making that individual or that family much more vulnerable to just income loss.
KELLY: And is there any data, any numbers, we can put on the ripple effects beyond just on an individual and the crisis - that losing your job, your livelihood can represent when you look at the effects on a family, on a neighborhood, on a community of somebody who was anchoring that and bringing in income suddenly no longer being able to do so?
HOLDER: Right. I live in Manhattan. I actually live in Harlem. And during the early part of the pandemic, the atmosphere in Harlem, which has - still has a sizable Black community, the atmosphere was really tense.
KELLY: What do you mean? People just seemed scared?
HOLDER: They seemed scared and upset - angry.
HOLDER: Yeah. There is research on the effect of job loss on people of color. And because people of color in this country have fewer resources to fall back on than, you know, white families or white individuals, a job loss has a harsher impact than it does on white families and white communities. Not that job loss is not devastating for anyone. But because there are wealth gaps and income gaps between Blacks and whites in the U.S., suffering a job loss - there is a much more anxious implication for Black families and Black communities.
KELLY: If I'm hearing you right, Michelle Holder, you're talking about the loss of a job - which, if it happens to any of us, is devastating - that transcends race. But for communities of color that perhaps were already closer to the edge, that had less of a safety net, the impact is just more profound.
HOLDER: It is. It's more profound in a material sense and in a psychological sense, you know, this real kind of helpless fear of what's going to happen next and are we going to weather this storm.
KELLY: So bottom line, are you optimistic as you look ahead to 2021 and the job scene?
HOLDER: Wow; that's a rough question to answer. I'll try to answer it, but I will qualify my answer by saying I'm either a pessimistic optimist or an optimistic pessimist.
KELLY: (Laughter) Meaning who the heck knows.
HOLDER: (Laughter) Right. Right. But mostly, I'm a realist. I do believe that the recovery, as tepid as it is, will continue. But I don't think by next year we should expect all of the major indicators, such as the unemployment rate and the poverty rate, to really get down to pre-pandemic levels.
KELLY: So a long road ahead - Michelle Holder, thank you.
HOLDER: Thank you.
KELLY: Michelle Holder is associate professor of economics at John Jay College, City University of New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE XX'S "TRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
An earlier version of the audio and Web stories said that former Delta Air Lines employee Jasmine Doakes was laid off from her job. In fact, she took a separation package from the company when she left in August.