I’m unemployed and so are a lot of people I know here in NYC. These are some of our stories, which I’m gonna write in first person because I think it reads a bit smoother that way.
(Mine is at the end because it’s mostly about my mental health.)
James, 27, Actor
I don’t work on Broadway, I’ve never been on a series, and I’m frequently out of work for short stretches, but I do okay. There’s always a way to make money in NYC, so I hope for a big break and work temp jobs or little gigs between acting jobs. I’m a bike messenger, a handyman, a dog walker, a house sitter, a mover — if it’s legal cash at the end of the day, I’ve probably done it.
It took a couple of months to finally qualify for unemployment, and even with the federal bump, it was barely enough to cover all my bills. Without that extra $600 though? Forget about it. My two roommates don’t make enough to cover my quarter of the rent, so I’m subletting to someone who can. I moved in with a friend of mine in Jersey City who also can’t make his rent and we’re splitting a one-bedroom until work picks up again. The lease at my apartment in Brooklyn runs out in December and they don’t want to re-sign (two of them are leaving the city) so I’m not really sure what I’m gonna do with all of my stuff.
Candice, 23, Waitress
My restaurant closed for good and I put out a lot of applications because unemployment isn’t enough and I needed to work. Luckily, I got a job waiting tables at a place right by my apartment so I can walk to work. Unluckily, I literally got COVID after like one week. It wasn’t bad and I don’t think I have any lasting effects, but I’m still pissed. And now that I’ve recovered, I’m back at work.
Shannon, 28, Publishing
I got laid off at the end of March and immediately packed up and went back home to my parents’ in Pennsylvania. I qualified for full unemployment benefits pretty quickly, and then the pandemic unemployment on top of that, so I was getting $1100 a week for awhile there and it was really nice to be honest. I probably would’ve stuck it out in the city had I known from the start that I would’ve been able to afford it, found another job, maybe a cheaper apartment, who knows. Now I’m collecting unemployment while I look for a decent job (obviously not in publishing anymore) in rural Pennsylvania.
Thomas, 31, Sex Worker
I haven’t had a steady job in years because they don’t pay enough. Why would I work 40 hours a week to barely make ends meet when I can work a few hours here and there and pay rent, party, travel, whatever I want? I never wanted a job, but now I wish I’d had one so I could get an unemployment check. I qualified for PUA as a gig worker (as a “dancer”), but that’s already gone. I didn’t feel safe looking for “dates” at first, but everybody gotta eat so I do a little here and there. I stopped paying rent in May and I’m waiting to be evicted because I’m not working at McDonald’s. I’m moving back into my mom’s house in Alabama when that happens.
Marcella, 44, Cashier
A couple of years ago, I was making $14.50 because I had been there for awhile and I got a little raise and more responsibility every year. When minimum wage went to $15, I got a raise to $15. I told management I thought I deserved $16.50, because I was making $1.50 more than the $13 minimum before the boost, and other people got a $2 raise while I only got a 50 cent raise. They said they couldn’t afford it. Nobody really hires 40 year old cashiers, and I didn’t finish high school, so I just stayed.
I was out of work when everything shut down and the $600 a week was twice my paycheck, so I saved most of it. I’m back at work, but our hours still aren’t back to what they were, so I’m using that money I saved up to cover my bills. Hopefully we’ll get more before it’s all gone.
Jenna, 25, Admin
When offices shut down, I worked from home. Nothing else really changed until this summer. There’s not enough work to go around and I got laid off. I qualified for unemployment but honestly, I was already living paycheck to paycheck, and now I have about $75 left for the month after I pay rent and bills. It makes me wish I’d been unemployed at the beginning when everybody was getting a federal bonus because I could’ve saved up some money or something. I’m not sure how many more struggle meals I can take.
I started my (dream) job on March 5th, the office closed on March 15th, and I was officially let go on March 23rd. As much as I try not to, I still wallow in that disappointment every few weeks because I found the job I’d been looking for the past decade in NYC. It was the highest salary, most vacation days, best healthcare plan, and friendliest team of co-workers I’d been offered. I legitimately cried on the train after my first day because I was so relieved to have found a job that I could envision as a career indefinitely.
Anyway, not wallowing currently.
I saved up all my pandemic bonus money and that’s what I use to pay rent now because unemployment doesn’t cover my bills. The job market is competitive out there. So far I’ve gotten to a third interview four times and not gotten the job, which is honestly playing havoc with my mental health because every rejection feels like there must be something wrong with me (as opposed to something in particular that was right with another candidate). I feel unqualified and unlikeable and I hate hunting for jobs, especially since my biggest mental health issues are depression and anxiety.
It’s a 180 degree change from May when I felt mostly fine. I didn’t feel like a failure for not having a job, because nobody had a job. I didn’t feel anxious about not having a forward and upward Life Trajectory, because everyone was standing still. Now the world is moving on, I need a job to make sure I can still pay the bills, and every day a bit more panic sets in that I’ll never find another job I like or another job that can pay my bills. Each time I get a rejection email, it’s a paralyzing disappointment that knocks me on my ass for a couple of days. The only job offer I’ve gotten would pay me about $120 more per week than unemployment does.
I’m not taking it. I would spend 40 hours a week (50 if you count the commute each way, because it’s not a work from home position) being miserable at a job I hate, feeling like a failure anyway because I’m a grown man working for peanuts just to say I have a job. That shitty job, or other shitty jobs like it, will still be there months from now, and if I take it now, I don’t have the time to interview for a job I would potentially want…or at least a job that would actually pay the bills.
So I’m waiting and hoping and trying to stay sane.
It sucks out here.
The two greatest tricks capitalism ever played.
The only thing keeping the Poor from uniting with the Really Poor is ego. People who make $40K in an office like to feel better than people who make minimum wage at a register. If we stop fighting each other we can all take more money from the guy making $20mil on his yacht.
- Making folks believe welfare and minimum wage are economically further from middle class than the 1%.
- You might be rich one day. Would you want to your money given away to poor people?
A lot of people like to believe they have more in common with Steve Jobs than the homeless guy asking for change on the corner, but the majority of Americans would be the homeless guy if they missed two months of paychecks. There aren’t enough months in your life to give you a bank account comparable to Steve Jobs. That’s the trick though. Work hard, and you can be just like Steve Jobs. The reality is more like Work hard, and you still might be the homeless guy.
Since we’re never going to be the homeless guy — because we work hard and he didn’t — we’re on the Steve Jobs path instead. Why would we push to redistribute the wealth of rich people when we’re on the same path? Taking money out of our own future pockets to help people who didn’t work hard enough?
I was on Twitter the other day, as usual, and I saw this.
Working 40 hour weeks during a pandemic just to get paid less than everyone on unemployment is fucking BULLSHIT.— nicks🪴 (@nicool_) May 18, 2020
You can go read the replies to that tweet, but some of them are so ugly. This is how capitalism has made it possible for the ruling class to hoard all the wealth — by turning the poor against each other. The people in the replies believe that they 1) are closer to Steve Jobs than the essential worker and 2) deserve more because they work harder and made smarter decisions, which will eventually get them even closer to Steve Jobs.
We should ALL be pushing for essential workers to make A LOT MORE MONEY. My unemployment check shouldn’t be bigger than their pay. I’m sitting in bed writing this. Someone whose check is half of what the government is giving me risks their life to make sure I can sit comfortably in my home with a fridge full of food.
People are saying “well quit” or “you should’ve picked a better job like I did,” but somebody has to ring up your groceries. Whether they raise concern about their pay or not, they deserve higher wages — all the time, but especially during a pandemic. The argument that people who work low-paying jobs should pick better jobs implies that not everyone in a society has the right to live comfortably. Somebody has to do the job, and calling out the worker who picked (or was left with) that job instead of calling out the system ultimately shifts the blame to people without whom society will not function.
The only thing keeping the Poor from uniting with the Really Poor is ego. People who make $40K in an office like to feel better than people who make minimum wage at a register. If we stop fighting each other we can all take more money from the guy making $20mil on his yacht. All wages should be higher — your office wages and the office cleaning lady’s wages. That part we can agree on, but we get stuck on who should come first, because if we start at the bottom, then people you secretly look down on will be raised to your standard of living until the system catches up. Too many people can’t stomach the thought of sitting in an office with a degree getting paid the same amount as someone who washes dishes.
$2K in your savings and a Camry in the driveway, suddenly you’re too good to support higher wages for the fry cook.
Y’all both POOR. Fight the real enemy.
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