People Who Lost Their Jobs During The Pandemic Share Their Experiences NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with three people who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown about their experience of being laid off, applying for unemployment and surviving the pandemic.

People Who Lost Their Jobs During The Pandemic Share Their Experiences

People Who Lost Their Jobs During The Pandemic Share Their Experiences

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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with three people who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown about their experience of being laid off, applying for unemployment and surviving the pandemic.


The economy is not an inanimate object. It's people - people who buy things, sell things, save money, invest and, until recently, go to work. More than 36 million people have signed up for unemployment benefits since mid-March. We wanted to spend some time with a few of them who have lost their jobs during the pandemic - three people, different industries, different places, same predicament. You'll hear from Ericka Dobrowski, who lost her job as a front desk clerk at a Hyatt hotel in Chicago; also, Zach Neville, a fly-fishing guide in Butte, Mont. But I started with Kamila Rashad in Detroit. In one day, she went from supervisor at a mental health nonprofit to unemployed.

KAMILA RASHAD: The director actually called me, and she said, I have some bad news. And I'm thinking I'm about to have to let one - somebody on my team go. She said, we are actually - have to do away with your position altogether because, you know, we do - we want to make sure that if something like this ever happens again that we will be prepared and being able to just work with the people that we have to. Everybody can get paid 'cause, you know, people started having - the upper management actually took a pay cut, but they probably didn't want to take another pay cut. So they actually did away with quite a couple of supervisors, cutting their positions. And this was on a Wednesday. This was on a Wednesday. And she said, so today is going to be your last day at 5 o'clock.

KELLY: What time of day is it they - the call comes in?

RASHAD: I get a call at exactly 11:30.

KELLY: Eleven thirty - so she's giving you - your supervisor is telling you, 5 o'clock, you're done.

RASHAD: That's it. That's - the end of the day, we want - you know, we want you to finish up everything you need to do today because today is your last day.

KELLY: And has your company made clear this is permanent, this is not a temporary thing? They're done.

RASHAD: It's not temporary. The position was done away with. However, they did let me know that any positions open up - they will hire me back.

KELLY: Yeah. Ericka, let me hear a little bit of your story. So many cities have empty hotels right now. In Chicago, I wonder how it unfolded for you. When were you laid off? What was that conversation with your boss like?

ERICKA DOBROWSKI: Yeah. I was laid off in - I think it was the second week of March. I'm not sure of the exact date. And then one of our big revenue groups was supposed to come in, and they canceled. And then it was just kind of like a domino effect after that. Large group after large group started canceling one right after the other on that. And then - yeah, it was, like, the second week of March - or I got a call from one of my directors, saying, I really hate to do this, but there's just no reason to have any employees on. We don't have any occupancy.

Yeah. And then, luckily, I was able to get into applying for unemployment right then, you know? And I was communicating with some of my colleagues, and they were talking about how, you know, they couldn't even get through to the unemployment office. It was really chaotic. You know, my HR team was trying really help us with applying for unemployment, things like that. But there was just so many people that everyone was so overwhelmed.

KELLY: Zach, let me bring you in. You are nowhere near a big city. You live in the small community of Butte, Mont., right now, which I point out because the coronavirus has not affected your area in the same way as Chicago and Detroit have been hit. Nonetheless, you're out of work. Tell me what your story has been. What's it been like?

ZACH NEVILLE: I actually split my year between Montana and Texas. So when this all kind of began to come down, I was in Texas. As trips began to cancel there, I made the decision to come back to Montana a month early - you know, what seemed to be just kind of a little quieter place, as you mentioned. You know, we've had a lot less overall impact here in Montana than some of the big cities. So...

KELLY: And how are you getting by right now?

NEVILLE: You know, fortunately - and I got to say I'm thankful that I've - you know, I was able to have a little bit of savings - not a ton. But that's mostly what I've been living off of here in I guess what's been a couple months now.

KELLY: Kamila, the same questions to you. How are you getting by?

RASHAD: I'm actually talking with someone now because I have a part-time job right now. And I was told that I do qualify for unemployment. So that's when it - you know, when I talked about budgeting to see how things would fit. Everything just happened so quick. And I just went into problem-solving mode and, you know, how am I going to do what I need to do to pay my bills?

KELLY: Yeah. And you know, looking for work right now is challenging. I'll put this question to each of you. Are you looking? I mean, do you see light at the end of this tunnel? Ericka.

DOBROWSKI: Yeah. No, I am looking - just seems like the entire hospitality industry right now is just - it's not really even worth looking there. So I started looking outside - pretty much anything, really, at this point.

KELLY: And are you able to pay the rent or mortgage right now?

DOBROWSKI: Barely. Yeah. So I was living in a one-bedroom, like, studio apartment prior till I got - about two weeks ago, and then that lease ended. And so I've decided actually get some roommates in a three-bedroom apartment to make it just a little bit cheaper. So that's definitely helped out a little bit. I kind of, you know - I like kind of living alone. That was nice. But right now, it's just the most practical thing for me. So that's what I've been doing.

KELLY: And it sounds like you're benefiting from unemployment. I know that Congress passed a bill I guess back in March supplementing unemployment into the end of July, providing an extra $600 a week on top of normal state benefits. Do you feel like you are getting the help you need?

DOBROWSKI: Yeah. Definitely, that extra supplemental income is definitely helping me. If I didn't get that, I would be really in some trouble right now. What I am kind of worry about is I'm afraid that I'm going to exhaust my benefits before I've found a new job. I think that's going to be pretty likely.

KELLY: Zach, the question to you - are you getting the support you need from the government? How scary is this from where you sit?

NEVILLE: It's - I think it's been a - you know, all things considered, a timely response as far as the assistance from the government. And it does, you know, add some level of security, at least in the short run. I'm a couple months in on living off of savings, and that's definitely nearing the end of what I got. I do feel fortunate in some ways. I do have few responsibilities financially, so that does allow me a little more freedom and flexibility.

KELLY: I wonder if there's anything the three of you might want to say to each other. You're living very different experiences in different parts of the country but the same experience, in a way. Is there anything that you've heard somebody else say that resonated, that gives you hope or breaks your heart?

DOBROWSKI: Well, I think it's just - it's overwhelming how widespread and how we are in so many different industries, and it's affecting all of us. And I don't know. It's hard to say what to feel right now. You know, I want to feel hopeful, but at the same time, I feel a little bit discouraged, too. You know, it's - I'm on the fence, I feel like.

RASHAD: And me listening to Zach say, I'm living off of savings - that's something I did not want to do just yet. And the reality is it's going to be coming up for me if things don't turn around for me within the next couple of months. So I'm - so I don't - I'm hopeful. But the reality is that that is part of my reality.

KELLY: And Zach.

NEVILLE: Probably like most of us, there's times where there's feelings of hope and feelings of uncertainty. You know, I think it's kind of a mix of both - you know, opens the mind to new ideas and to moving forward and, you know, just trying to come from that place and pull through in the end.

KELLY: Well, thank you so much to all three of you for sharing your stories and your thoughts and what's on your mind - really appreciate it. Thank you.

RASHAD: Thank you.

NEVILLE: Thank you.

DOBROWSKI: Thank you.

KELLY: We have been speaking with Ericka Dobrowski in Chicago, Kamila Rashad in Detroit, Mich., and Zach Neville in Butte, Mont.


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