How unemployment has marginalized employees

Randy Chase, 57, works as a bricklayer on construction teams. Since unemployment benefits have stalled since April and there are no more savings, he has lived in his pickup truck outside of Denver since September and uses an electric heater to keep warm.

Randy Chase

Randy Chase has lived in his pickup truck for months.

Fortunately, the tiny cab of his 1996 Nissan is easy to heat and that’s a lifesaver in the sub-freezing winter cold outside of Denver.

Equipped with a gas-powered generator and a small electric heater, the 57-year-old manages.

Chase has suffered calamity after calamity since the spring: unemployment benefits are pending. The job opportunities were sporadic. Now the cold makes it difficult to find jobs in his job as a bricklayer in construction teams. With his savings exhausted and his truck partially wrecked by a driver, Chase cannot move to a place that has more jobs.

“Standing off the ramp on a freeway with a sign saying you are hungry is a new experience for me,” Chase said.

People in need line up at a food distribution center in the Corona neighborhood of New York, Queens.


Pain and despair

It’s been nine months since the coronavirus pandemic began its assault on American livelihoods. Since then, financial desperation for unemployed Americans across the country has grown steadily.

Almost 8 million people have fallen into poverty since summer. The savings for many, especially the low income earners, are either diminished or lost. Millions of households owe thousands of rent back and ancillary costs – and are again at risk of eviction in the new year. A growing proportion of the unemployed report that their households do not have enough to eat.

Congress appears to be on the verge of finalizing a $ 900 billion Covid Relief Act that, at the time of writing, includes additional unemployment benefits, economic reviews, and small business and rental assistance.

“I hope Congressmen understand the pain and despair people are experiencing,” said Bill McCamley, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, which administers the state’s unemployment benefits.

“I get emails every day talking about people who are about to be evicted, lose their cars and are worried about feeding their children,” he said.

Two weeks until eviction

Adonijah Niles, 26, a single mother with three children, lost her part-time employee job in March. Niles can’t pay all of her bills and has a rent of $ 5,400. Her landlord issued an eviction notice this week asking the family to leave in two weeks.

Adonijah Niles

Adonijah Niles, a single mother, lost her job in mid-March. She had made about $ 13 an hour doing part-time office work for a hospitality shuttle service.

Now, 26-year-old Niles is six months behind rent. She and her three young children may soon be evicted from their Watervliet, New York apartment.

Your current income – about $ 380 a week in pre-tax unemployment benefits and $ 500 in monthly grocery stamps – is not enough to cover the family’s basic living expenses. For a family of four, it is well below the federal poverty line.

On Friday, Niles received an eviction notice. The December 16 letter ordered her to pay the arrears – $ 5,400 – in full within 14 days or to vacate the apartment. Otherwise, the landlord, TCIM Properties LLC, will take legal action to evacuate and replace any damage as per the document.

Niles received a similar notice in August, records show. It was protected by a temporary eviction moratorium, which will expire after December.

This is the first time I’ve had to set unemployment in my entire job history and the only time I’ve done it has ruined my life. It should be criminal what they do to me.

Mike Carpenter

Unemployed man in Philadelphia

Maricopa County Police Officer Darlene Martinez signs an evacuation warrant on October 7, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona.

John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images

$ 6,000 owed

By January, more than 11 million households will owe an average of more than $ 6,000 in rent back, utilities, and late fees – around four months, according to an estimate by Moody’s Analytics. That’s a collective deficit of $ 70 billion.

“I think the difficulties we are currently seeing with food insecurity and other measures are at historic highs,” said Chloe East, a University of Colorado economist who specializes in the social safety net.

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This safety net does not always provide adequate income support to people who lose their jobs.

Unemployment, welfare, food stamps and other social programs only replace an average of 19% of previous wages in the months following job loss. That came from an article published this month by East and David Simon, an economist at the University of Connecticut.

[Poverty] meets families in every single state in the country, in every single county, in every single city. No area was left untouched.

Megan Curran

Researcher at the Center for Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University

And unemployment programs, the primary safety net for the unemployed, protect the neediest the least, East said.

That’s because low-wage earners are disproportionately harmed by wage and work requirements that states have set as the minimum level of aid eligibility, she said.

And low-wage workers – as well as people of color and people without a university degree – are precisely the people who have been bearing the brunt of the country’s job losses since March.

Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights Project estimates that employment among those who paid less than $ 27,000 a year was still 20% lower in mid-November than it was before the pandemic. In contrast, jobs among those earning $ 60,000 or more a year are up 1% from January.

Poverty everywhere

Now there is a risk that the few unemployment benefits will be turned off if Congress does not extend the temporary unemployment programs, which are due to expire in a week.

Otherwise, 5 million people will fall into poverty in January. That emerges from a paper released Tuesday by the Columbia University Center for Poverty and Social Policy.

Randy Chase’s car was broken down in an accident, making it difficult to travel to find work.

Randy Chase

Almost 16% of Americans – about 52 million people – were poor as early as November, according to Megan Curran, one of the report’s authors.

“”[Poverty] meets families in every single state in the country, in every single county, in every single city, “Curran said.” No area was left untouched. “

Many unemployed Americans have depleted savings and other financial resources and put strong emphasis on their ability to weather a financial shock, she added.

Mike Carpenter, 35, said the unemployment system had resulted in financial ruin. Carpenter, who worked for a luxury apartment builder, has not received any unemployment benefits he believes are owed from Pennsylvania in months.

Mike Carpenter

“It should be criminal”

Many workers experience serious difficulties as a result of administrative problems at employment offices.

Mike Carpenter, 35, has been struggling to get benefits in Pennsylvania since losing his job that spring.

With no income, Carpenter, who lives in Philadelphia, used up his savings and could barely pay bills for six months, he said. He took out debt to meet basic needs. This week his car was taken back. He lost his apartment and stayed with a friend.

“It ruined my credit,” said Carpenter, who had been the superintendent of a luxury apartment builder. “I pretty much lost everything.”

Pennsylvania started paying Carpenter $ 500 a week last month but has withheld all back payments, he said. The state unemployment website states that he is only entitled to benefits for a few weeks.

According to Sarah DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, privacy laws have prevented the state from providing specific information about Carpenter’s claims.

She referred Carpenter to a customer service email inbox for questions and complaints. Carpenter says he sent countless emails to the agency and generally received no response or a response that was of limited use.

“This is the first time I’ve had to set unemployment in my entire work history and the only time I’ve done it has ruined my life,” said Carpenter. “It should be criminal what you do to me.”

DeSantis did not respond to an additional request for comment.

Randy Chase has slept in his Nissan pickup in the Denver suburbs since September 1996.

Randy Chase

$ 11,000 and a shift in fortune

Randy Chase, the unemployed worker outside Denver, has also long struggled for benefits.

He first applied for help from the California Department of Employment Development in April after working in the Golden State before moving to Colorado.

California denied Chase’s application in October – almost six months later – claiming he needed to do additional identity verification, records show. Chase claims he filed the requested documents a long time ago and appealed the decision.

“I’m in a desperate situation,” Chase said on Wednesday. “Right now I’m just trying to survive this little bureaucratic morass.”

The Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, a volunteer-run, nonprofit organization, provides safe, legal parking spaces for homeless people seeking shelter in their cars. Above is a view of the parking lot where Randy Chase lived.

Randy Chase

Throughout all of this, Chase tried to stay in a good mood. He celebrates the small wins – in November he found a parking space with an electrical outlet and saved $ 5 a day in gasoline to run his generator. He then received help from the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides safe, legal parking to homeless people who seek shelter in their cars.

After months of sustained setback, Chase’s luck seems to have turned for the better. After a CNBC investigation, he received a call from the California Employment Agency on Thursday apologizing for the mistake and informing him of the impending release of the funds owed.

He received a $ 11,000 deposit on Friday and expects another $ 3,000 soon, followed by regular weekly installments.

A California Labor Office spokesman did not return a request for comment.

“I don’t think I’ll fight long,” said Chase.

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