By: Emma Curtis and Alexis Ramirez
Many Americans are receiving more money from unemployment benefits than they previously did at their jobs before the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent after 20.5 million people lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the highest unemployment rate has been since the Great Depression, and it could take years before it returns to 3.5 percent.
The two criteria to be considered unemployed are that one is jobless and is actively searching for work or someone is on temporary layoff. Due to the surge in the number of unemployed Americans, Congress passed a relief package that included a $600-per-week supplement until August.
Jobless workers who filed for unemployment are now making upwards of 10 times the amount of money they were per-week at their old jobs. Eric Smith, a 23-year-old former server, filed for unemployment after being laid off from his job at Outback Steakhouse after two years.
“This is the first time I’ve been on unemployment,” Smith said. “Being unemployed has such a negative connotation… but so does being homeless, which is where I would be without benefits.”
Smith lives alone in an apartment and has two pets, so he knew he had to file for benefits to keep him afloat while searching for a job. Before the weekly $600 relief package, Smith was making $149 a week from unemployment insurance (UI).
“With everything combined — weekly claim and relief package — I am receiving $1,467 every two weeks on unemployment,” said Smith. “Benefits are so good, it’s making me not want to go back to work. It’s a very skewed system.”
As a server, Smith was making $11 hourly, plus whatever tips he made at the end of the night (average $80), for a weekly paycheck of around $350. He is making over two times that amount per-week on UI benefits.
While there are millions of Americans on unemployment, the number of essential workers currently putting themselves at risk is just as large.
Elidia Newmann, a 20-year-old student working at Walmart in Palm Springs, is one of many essential workers who believes her sacrifice is not being properly rewarded.
“It really is the most frustrating thing,” said Newmann. “I put myself at risk every day and people sitting at home are making more money in a week than I do in two months.”
Newmann has been employed at Walmart for over two years and has not stopped working shifts since the COVID-19 outbreak started. She is putting herself through school and relies on her paychecks every week.
“Not working isn’t an option for me,” Newmann said. “People keep telling me to quit and go on unemployment to make more money but who knows if I’ll have a job to come back to? Jobs are going to be scarce once this is all over and people start looking for work again.”
Finding work after quarantine is lifted will be difficult for most, though some will be able to return to their previous jobs once their business’ reopens. Deborah Fassel, a 63-year-old golf course marshal, recently gained her job back after being temporarily laid off for eight weeks.
“Being laid off wasn’t such a huge deal to me since this job is something I decided to take on after retiring from teaching,” said Fassel. “But I did get used to having the extra money.”
Shortly after being laid off, Fassel received a $1,200 stimulus check, which made up for the money lost from her hours on the golf course.
“Between the stimulus check and my retirement money I wasn’t too worried, but I really wanted to go back to work because I enjoy the environment,” said Fassel
Although people receiving unemployment benefits are making more money now than when they were working, Fassel believes a lot of people are starting to take advantage of the situation.
“After being hired back at the golf course, my boss tried to get all the college kids to come back to work, but most of them would rather collect unemployment,” said Fassel.
Even though unemployment benefits are great right now, Fassel is unsure what is going to happen to these people once they stop receiving the extra $600 per week.
“Unemployment will run out soon so I think it’s better if the laid-off employees accept their jobs back because they might not be able to find another job later on,” said Fassel.
Newmann gave similar advice as Fassel in that one should not give up looking for work or deny work because the benefits are good; they are only temporary.
“The benefits are temporary, and you can’t rely on something that is temporary,” said Newmann. “My advice to anyone on unemployment now would be: don’t get used to it. Yeah sure, the money is great, but so is having a job when the big checks run out.”