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How COVID-19 Is Leaving People Out Of Work


The new health guidance will make a bad situation for many workers even worse. Hotel and event staff, tour guides, musicians, substitute teachers, bartenders - many of them are suddenly jobless. Even those who technically still have their jobs are hurting financially because of the coronavirus pandemic. NPR asked people to share their stories of layoffs and pay cuts. Almost 600 responded. NPR's Alina Selyukh spoke with some of them.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Early spring is always a slower time at the Seattle restaurant where Kary Wayson works. She'd been a waitress there for almost 16 years when her city became one of the first epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

KARY WAYSON: It seemed like all of a sudden, Seattle itself took a nosedive, and the restaurants were just truly empty.

SELYUKH: Cruises stopped coming. Theater shows and sports events canceled - people holing up at home, avoiding public spaces. Her restaurant had to limit its menu then cut back hours. Wayson hadn't really processed this crazy idea that it might be forced to close altogether when she walked the mile from her house to what ended up being her last shift at work.

WAYSON: I walked through empty Seattle streets, which is known for its horrendous traffic - nobody, no cars, small business after small business on my way with, you know, hand-lettered signs in the windows, saying, closed.

SELYUKH: Now she's one of many workers in tourism, food, events, arts, education stuck in a surreal limbo - jobless but may maybe temporarily, applying for unemployment, dipping into savings, searching for new work in the middle of a pandemic, hoping maybe to get their old jobs back. But when or if nobody knows.

NATALIE ROBLIN: Obviously, getting laid off is crazy enough on its own, but just in addition to everything that's going on in the world, it's just like, man, this is insane.

SELYUKH: Natalie Roblin also got laid off last week. She lives in New Orleans, where she did marketing at a company that relies both on travel and large events for business. Another group that's been hit hard are truck drivers in the Port of Los Angeles. It's a shipping hub for Chinese imports. As coronavirus quarantines idled Chinese factories, port truck drivers like Neftali Dubon have been losing work.

NEFTALI DUBON: In the five years that I've been working at the Long Beach and LA ports, I've never seen what I'm seeing now. Places where the containers - we just have stacks of containers. It's just now empty, you know?

SELYUKH: Dubon is an owner-operator, meaning he's considered his own boss. So technically, he's still employed and does not qualify for government assistance. He gets paid for each load he picks up from the port and drives to a warehouse. He says he needs at least five or six runs like that a day to make a living. He's now doing one or two, meanwhile still paying down a loan on his trucking rig insurance, storage fees - a total of over $2,000.

DUBON: I am the owner of the rig. I did purchase it under my credit. So, you know, if I was to stop making payments on my rig, that will also affect my personal credit.

SELYUKH: Already this week, more restrictions are kicking in across the country. Federal health officials recommend against gatherings of more than 10 people. Several states are forcing closures of bars, restaurants and event venues. Perla Pimentel works in hospitality in Orlando and says almost everyone in the city is feeling the squeeze from lack of tourism.

PERLA PIMENTEL: We could tell that the company was hurting because we were watching all of our clients cancel. It's a little bit of a - you don't really expect it to happen to you.

SELYUKH: She was an event coordinator suddenly with no events to coordinate. She says the layoff was amicable - bosses saying they'd be happy to have her back when things normalize. But she can't bank on that possibility whenever it might happen.

PIMENTEL: I went out to my car and cried and called my dad (laughter). Yeah.

SELYUKH: Pimentel gave herself a long weekend to breathe and process and discovered an unexpected side effect of unemployment - more time with her overeager housemate, her grandmother.

PIMENTEL: Oh, she loves it. I go to the kitchen. I eat breakfast - like, sit down. Let's hang out. What are you doing later today?

SELYUKH: What she is doing today is filing for unemployment, looking for cuts in her budget spreadsheet, calling to renegotiate her student loan, maybe - just maybe - landing a new job.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.