A gloomy Christmas for the unemployed Americans
NEW YORK – Last Christmas, Shanita Matthews cooked a feast for her family of three: roast chicken, barbecued ribs, spinach, macaroni and cheese.
This year? They’ll stick with tuna and crackers, among the few items she can afford at the supermarket.
“We’re not really doing Christmas – I guess you can put it that way,” said Matthews, who lives in Suwanee, Georgia. “We are in trouble. We’re tired, and all I have is my faith.
Like nearly 10 million other Americans, Matthews has been unemployed since the viral pandemic ravaged the U.S. economy in March, triggering a devastating recession and widespread unemployment. Now, several months later, they face a holiday season they could hardly have predicted a year ago: too little money to buy gifts, cook good meals, or pay all of their bills. .
Nearly 8 million people have slipped into poverty since June after spending $ 1,200 on checks the government handed out to most Americans in the spring and an additional $ 600 a week unemployment benefit expired in July, according to a study by Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago and two other colleagues. And finding a job is getting even more difficult: Hires in November slowed for a fifth consecutive month, with U.S. employers creating the fewest jobs since April.
Some relief may – potentially – be on the way. This week, Congress approved a $ 900 billion pandemic rescue package that includes an unemployment benefit of $ 300 per week, cash payments of up to $ 600 for most individuals and a renewal of extended unemployment assistance programs which are about to expire. On Tuesday evening, however, President Donald Trump cast doubts on this urgently needed federal help by attacking the bailout as inadequate and suggesting he might not enact it.
Help, meanwhile, cannot come soon enough for Matthews. With her bank balance now negative, she fears that her account will be closed if she does not receive financial assistance soon.
Matthews, 41, has struggled with her finances since she had to shut down her wedding business in March when the ceremonies were called off and all need for the centerpieces and flower arrangements she made was suddenly evaporated. Matthews was denied unemployment assistance by the Georgia Department of Labor. She does not understand why and appeals the decision. But the process is so slow that she waited months just to get a hearing.
Despite being a registered nurse, Matthews failed to land a job. She can only work late hours as she often needs to help her 6-year-old daughter, who has to do a virtual apprenticeship at home when virus cases increase at her school.
Matthews’ car was repossessed after she could not meet the payments. Most of what her husband earns goes to a $ 1,600 mortgage on their house. That leaves them about $ 200 a month for groceries, utilities, and a $ 50 internet bill – a necessity for her daughter’s schoolwork.
Matthews hopes a parent can step in and buy a Christmas present for their daughter.
“We want to be able to have food, water, heat,” she said. “These are the things that matter to us. “
Charities say they have been inundated with requests for help, a sign that many are in deep financial distress. The United Way expects the number of calls to the 211 hotline it funds will double from last year to 20 million calls, mostly from people needing help paying their rent or their electricity bills. Feeding America says a lot of the people who come to food banks are newbies.
In desperation, Sheyontay Molton took to Twitter for help after a series of events left her with no money to buy gifts for her four children.
The father of her children lost his job this year. Molton, who is 28 and lives in San Antonio, Texas, had to temporarily stop working as a delivery driver for DoorDash after debris from a falling truck severely damaged his car in October. She used some of her rent money to fix it, leaving it behind with bills.
Noticing on Twitter that social media influencers and celebrities were providing money to certain people in need, Molton set up an account and tweeted about his situation. Someone sent her $ 200 through an app – money she plans to use for groceries. Another couple on Twitter asked her to create an Amazon wishlist, then bought their children a doll, cars and other toys for Christmas.
Without the donations, Molton had planned to tell his young children that Santa Claus couldn’t come because he was taking extra precautions against coronaviruses.
“Idiot, I know,” she said, but “that would have saved me more time”.
The struggles of low-income workers and the unemployed are contributing to a weak holiday shopping season that will likely weigh on the overall economy. Retail sales fell 1.1% in November, a generally strong month as gift shopping takes off. Some economists expect retail sales to fall again this month, especially as governments impose more trade restrictions and rising cases of the coronavirus push consumers away from stores and restaurants.
Reduced vacation is what Summer Kluytman envisioned. She had to tell her two teenage sons not to expect the kind of Christmas presents they have typically received in the past, like the $ 400 Oculus VR headset that was under the tree last year. .
After losing two jobs teaching art, Kluytman had to use food stamps to help pay for groceries. Her husband’s salary, who works for a cable company, is used to pay the rent on their house in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Kluytman is spending $ 100 for each son this Christmas on hoodies and other clothing, down from the $ 500 she spent last year. She plans to organize movie nights, where they will meet in the living room to watch a movie.
“I think they’re cool that we hang out together rather than a bunch of stuff under the tree,” she said. “But it breaks my heart a bit.”