I’m a 52 year old Black man from Washington, DC. I graduated from high school and did one year of college. For most of my life I have done janitorial work and work in restaurants and warehouses. I am not a union worker. Construction work is the work that I really enjoy and is currently the work that I do.
When I heard about the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., I knew that I was going to lose my job. And I did. I lost my job in early March and it started to get stressful soon after. My employer did not tell me how long I would be out of work. A few weeks later, my job called me back in for a few days, but then laid me off again. Because I am my own safety net, I usually have some money saved. I try to save money for times like this because if not I would be in trouble.
A month or so ago, I started to receive unemployment compensation. I have always thought of this benefit as something that I and other workers earn so I have had no problem applying for what I worked for. It’s something that I use when I’m in a crunch; a means to get by for a short period. Before the pandemic, I received unemployment compensation during a period of unemployment, so I was familiar with the process. It was a frustrating process. When I applied, I was unemployed for a couple of weeks. It took so long to receive the benefits that I didn’t receive it until I started my new job. I thought that was ridiculous as I had bills that were accruing during the weeks that I was unemployed and when I was eventually paid by my new job.
During another time when I was unemployed, I did not apply because I found another job soon after and I knew the process of receiving benefits would take much longer. Although, their process is the hold up, they want to penalize you if you receive the benefits you were owed after you start a new job.
I am getting unemployment compensation now. I thought that the process would be longer due to the pandemic, but the wait time actually was not long. They told me that I would get an extra $600/week for 4 months, that I don’t have to do job searches, and that I don’t have to wait a week. All of this will help me out for now. I worry about the people who are not getting it and what they are going through.
Unfortunately, I think that Black workers meeting their needs during this pandemic will depend a lot on employers. I can already see how much harder it will be for Black workers; the wealth gap will grow. Black workers will have problems with their landlords about rent and there will be issues with transportation to work as that has slowed down. I will sit back and brace myself for what is to come.
Instinctively I knew that this pandemic would impact Black communities differently and that the impact on me, my family, and other Black people that I know would not be fair. So I’ll continue to be my own safety net, like so many other Black workers, and brace myself for the ongoing impact of the virus and response to it.
Diego Reid's areas of expertise include construction, janitorial services, and unemployment compensation.
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