I’m a 52 year old Black man from New Jersey. I have lived in Washington, DC for the past 4 years. Before moving to DC, I lived in North Carolina for 15 years and then Baltimore, MD for a few years. I graduated from high school and did one year of college, so I figured I would have more job opportunities. That’s what I thought. For most of my life I have done janitorial work and work in restaurants and warehouses, even though I had interest in other fields of work. Construction work is the work that I really enjoy, but I had a hard time getting a job in construction until recently. It is currently the work that I do.
When I first 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.
After I was let go from my job, I applied for unemployment compensation. A month or so later, 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 the unemployment compensation application process is the hold up, they want to penalize you if you receive the benefits you were owed after you start a new job. Those penalties are rough.
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.
I have heard from other people who submitted claims that they had a difficult time receiving their benefits even after their application was approved. The Department of Employment Services told me that I would get an extra $600 a week for four 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 really 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, friends, 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.