Coronavirus isn’t just a public health crisis, it’s an economic one. However, the financial impact of the pandemic hasn’t been evenly distributed. While a record 6.65 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, others are working from their homes. Others, from their vacation homes. Here, eight people from different walks of life tell us how the current crisis is (or isn’t) affecting them financially.
Mallory Foreman, 20, Oklahoma City, barber
I recently started my career as a barber and we were all just laid off due to Covid-19 and told to file for unemployment. I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend in Oklahoma City. He graduated in December and has been looking for a job since. Job postings have closed but luckily he just got hired at Target.
We’re very worried about making rent, which is $620 a month and due on the third. The only thing my landlord has said is payments are due online. So we’ve been doing Postmates and I’ve been making and delivering pies, trying to make a little money. Postmates pays $6 or $7 a delivery; I’ve made $130 selling pies so far. I don’t have savings. I’m honestly just going day by day hoping people buy pies and I don’t have to beg my parents for money.
Matt (name changed), 37, New York, lives off stock portfolio
I’ve got a background in fashion and hospitality, but for the past year and a half I’ve been living off the returns of bond funds and equities. So, for example, in the beginning of January I got disbursements that yielded $45,000. And I get payouts like that every few months. Not always for that amount, but it’s extremely livable.
The current situation hasn’t really made me more worried about money. But getting a statement from my financial advisers outlining my losses for February was not an easy pill to swallow. When the market tanked because of coronavirus the value of my investments decreased by nearly $100,000 in value. I almost cried. OK, that’s a lie, I did cry.
My spending habits haven’t really changed. I mean, I’m not dropping $600 on dinners at the Grill or the Beatrice. However, I’ve probably spent the same amount I usually do on other “necessities” ranging from Caviar, to online shopping, to Ubers. Also, I say this from a beachfront resort in St Thomas – so I guess it hasn’t really changed my spending much.
Caty Simon, 38, Massachusetts, sex worker, co-editor of Tits and Sass (a national media site by and for sex workers), activist
Coronavirus is the second devastating blow in two years to the sex work market. The first was in 2018 with the passing of Fosta-Sesta (the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act). Those bills meant online publishers would be liable if sex workers posted ads on their platforms and, as a result, websites banned sex workers, and scores of our ad platform sites shuttered themselves. Vulnerable workers were pushed onto the streets. Pimps were texting us en masse saying: “The game has changed, you need us baby.” It destroyed the independence of many sex workers, and left us exposed to more trafficking.
So what’s happening now has to be seen in the context of an already flagging market. I’ve been a sex worker since 2002 and was escorting in 2008 and 2009. Back then we were told that vice is inelastic, right? That actually had some level of truth to it at the time. I was able to survive well enough through that recession. But this time, because in-person contact has become hazardous, it’s different. In-person sex work has been decimated.
I have about $80 in my bank account now and I have no idea where the next money is coming from. I’m surviving financially by upcharging a few regular clients for sexting or phone sex, and luckily at this point I haven’t been existing purely on sex work. I think I might be able to pay my rent. Also, non-criminal evictions are not proceeding in Massachusetts, so there’s that. But even so, back rent would destroy me. I’m just trying to take things day by day. I can’t afford to stockpile food. I just have enough for the next two or three days. (Though I have got cat food for a week because priorities!) So I’m planning really early morning trips to the local dollar store because I live in a food desert in a tiny, economically depressed ex-mill town. But still, I want to say, if I say nothing else, that my position is really privileged as compared to other low-income sex workers. At least I have a home to isolate myself in.
On paper I don’t make enough for the government stimulus to help me at all. And I wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment; it’s all part and parcel of being in a criminalized profession. There are relief funds that have been started for sex workers. But – as is common with any crisis hitting the sex work market – all the people giving to these funds are other sex workers. We have no political allies. We have no allies except each other.
Debbie (name changed), 65, North Carolina, X-ray technician
I just turned 65 in March and was planning to retire next July. There was a countdown calendar on my phone and everything. I was putting 20% of my pay into my 403(b) for retirement; it was doing great and everything was on track. I talked to my financial adviser less than eight weeks ago about it and he said: “Let’s just sit on it for a while, you might want to move some things around in April.” Well, then everything came crashing down. In the course of a week I lost a quarter of my investments. I met with my adviser immediately and told him to move everything to a savings account. Then I went to work and said: “Guess what? I’m not retiring next year after all.”
My body hurts, my brain is tired. I’ve been working in healthcare for 45 years. As much as I enjoy what I do, I’m ready to be done. It’s incredibly disheartening having all your plans whipped out from under you. I’ll never make back the money that I lost. My friends are in similar positions.
I understand that I’m better off than a lot of people in that I have anything set aside for retirement. And there’s really no one to blame for what happened. But I will tell you I really wish that Richard Burr [a Republican senator who sold off his investments at a very opportune moment] had called me and told me to change my stock portfolio.
Katherine Newman, 39, London, freelance creative
I’m a freelance actor and writer, and juggle lots of other jobs such as tutoring to pay the bills. Pretty much all my creative work has disappeared overnight. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some tutoring jobs via Zoom still, but that’s not very much money. I’m probably going to get about £600 ($743) a month from the government, which is based on 80% of how much I was earning over the past three years. Some of my freelance friends who have been on maternity leave aren’t getting anything.
I live hand-to-mouth generally. I have roughly about a month buffer. My foolproof plan was that I could always just make extra money working in a bar or as an usher. But all of that’s gone. Creatives know we’ve chosen a financially risky life. But you graft and you are prepared to do other things to make it work. I just didn’t realize I had to make my career virus-proof.
Rent is one of the biggest worries. I’m really fortunate that my landlady is lovely. She’s said she won’t evict me but I’m still worried that I’m going to accrue lots of months of rent debt.
The current situation has highlighted which budgeting habits I’ll change when this is over. There will be less grabbing coffee and food on the run. I’ve been going through subscriptions I have and seeing if I really need them. Obviously the gym has been canceled; I can do workouts at home. I’ve started to re-evaluate how I’ve lived my life. Do I really need to be in London to do what I do?
Wendi Muse, 36, Baltimore, PhD student
I’m finishing up my PhD dissertation and have to find a job soon. Interviews would normally happen in August and September but I don’t see that happening now. I’m also worried about what will happen with the nature of the university itself – I worry that they will stick with virtual learning because it will lower costs. I foresee academia being shaped by this for the long term.
Grants are also up in the air right now – which we depend on as academics. I’ve already received a finishing grant which means my income from the year is $28,000. My husband is in logistics and he was laid off at the start of the panic. We rely primarily on him for the mortgage. We are OK for the next few months but talking to the mortgage provider and seeing if we can reduce payments is on my list of things to do. The main scare for me is that there’s no prospect of my husband getting a job that’s safe. We have a new baby who just came out of NICU; she was there for respiratory problems. I also have asthma. So it’s not safe for my husband to do Uber work or work in a grocery store. It’s a really unsure future for all of us.
I’ve always been type A about budgeting because I’ve not always been financially secure – my single mom was always trying to make ends meet. However, I’ve started planning even more; particularly around food. I wasn’t one of the types running out to get toilet paper, I just wanted to have enough food in the house. When it comes to utilities that can be negotiated up to a point; food can’t.
Eddie McNamara, 33, New Hampshire, server and bartender
Until recently I was employed at the Outback Steakhouse in Massachusetts as a server and bartender. My wife worked there as well and was also laid off. There were some grants available but I didn’t qualify for because I was under the hour minimum because I supplement my income driving part time for Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. We were still catching up on bills from the birth of our daughter, and this pandemic put a hard halt to our momentum. We’ve basically had to go into panic mode and pay only the bills that are most time sensitive or urgent.
Haley, 25, Iowa, creative coordinator
I work at the University of Iowa as a creative coordinator. One of my main responsibilities is designing marketing materials for events. Well, there are no longer any events to market! I am lucky to still be receiving pay checks but there’s a chance I could lose my job in the next year. I am one of the most recently hired staff, so I could be the first to let go if they need to save money.
My husband lost his job on 11 March. He managed a cafe in one of the buildings on campus. We live in a small yet expensive apartment near the downtown area. He is not able to pay for his share of rent, utilities, or groceries until he can find another job. And right now … no one is hiring.
I am lucky to have a large audience on Twitter and Instagram; my accounts became popular after I began writing horoscopes every Sunday. So I have the opportunity to market my skills to my audience and receive a small income. Which is something I have not considered until now. Once the reality of our situation set in I asked my followers how they would feel about paying $5 for a three-card tarot reading. After receiving about 150 requests via email, I closed the service temporarily to ensure I had time to get to all of them. So, for now, I am not too worried about money. This has given me the opportunity to make a little money on the side as a safety net.
Maureen Beran, 38, Iowa, fitness studio owner
I own barre3, a fitness studio in Iowa; we opened exactly one year ago. We’re doing the best we can and have transferred a fraction of our classes over to livestream. But the equipment needed to set up other instructors to teach from their homes is cost prohibitive. We’re down about 60% in revenue this month and I’m unsure how long I can keep my current members with this setup. Without the revenue from members’ recurring payments, I’m not sure how long we will last. I’m thankful for the aid packages for small businesses just passed but understanding it and how to receive it is overwhelming. And I’m unsure if it will be enough for my business.
My husband is a software developer; his work hasn’t been affected. Having a steady income through this is letting me sleep at night. We recognize that while we are taking a hit other people are worried about their next meal. So we’re spending a lot more on money on takeout than we would normally to try and help the local community. We’re also trying to get our groceries from a small grocer rather than the big brands.
I have two boys, ages eight and four. We’re saving about $800 this month in childcare as my parents watched my younger one when he wasn’t in preschool but we’d much prefer to pay the money. We don’t feel prepared to teach them nor do we have the time to do it. We purchased both of them iPads so we could work with fewer interruptions – we’re concerned about the amount of screen time they are getting but we just don’t know how to make it all work. I feel pulled in a million directions and that I’m doing none of my roles (mother, business owner, boss, wife, friend, daughter, sister) well.
— to www.theguardian.com