Every day for about five hours, Meghan Richardson visits her daughter, Rose Washington, at the hospital’s intensive care unit. Rose was born prematurely before her lungs could fully develop.
Richardson has been off work since June. She was exposed to COVID-19 while working as a dental assistant. Her COVID test was negative, but she had to quarantine. Her test was negative, but she applied for unemployment benefits. She still hasn’t seen her claim processed.
Meanwhile, her last day to file an unemployment insurance claim is today. She’s unsure if she’ll get her money, but with the federal programs Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, PEUC, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, PUA, ending, hope is dwindling for her.
Meanwhile, bills are stacking up. She can’t return to work while her daughter lies in the ICU. And when Rose is discharged Richardson’s opportunities for work are even less likely.
She is one of about 7,430 Clark County residents who can file their last unemployment insurance claim from the federal government today. The amount they will receive depends on their last source of income.
It’s a common narrative with online social media postings and gossip that the claimants are sitting on the couch, spending free government money while small businesses, such as restaurants, are suffering through a labor shortage. But if other states that cut off the federal programs months ago are any example, there’s not going to be a mass return to the workforce for those 7,430 people in Clark County.
In those states, mostly in the southern U.S., “about one out of seven people went back to work fairly quickly,” said Scott Bailey, the state’s regional labor economist for Southwest Washington. “But it was not an ‘Oh, the party’s over’ situation,” he said.
Most of the people set to lose unemployment benefits are women, at 54 percent of the claims filed last week.
The No. 1 occupation to file for unemployment last week was waiters and waitresses. About 81 percent of those claimants were female. No. 2 was sales managers, and men barely edged out women. No. 3 was general operations managers, and those claimants were mostly female.
“It’s interesting that while women are the clear minority of management occupations that 53 percent of general managers who are filing unemployment claims were female,” Bailey said.
Bailey said he suspects that much of the reason the claimants aren’t returning to work is that the jobs are in-person. So returning to work is a health concern, especially with the Delta variant spreading through Clark County; another factor is people with children at home who can’t afford child care.
“A fair amount of it is occupational,” he said. “It’s those personal service occupations that were impacted by people buying online (who now) are going to the store. Those are the jobs you can’t do remotely.”
Minority groups are also filing claims at a higher proportion, but the reason isn’t clear. African American residents initially were filing 2 percent of the claims when the pandemic began but now they’re filing 4 percent of the claims.
For Richardson, with bills stacking up, the government assistance is needed more than ever.
“Getting back to work? I don’t know,” said Richardson, who’s responsible for her child’s care after she’s discharged from the hospital. “I can’t do dentistry from home.”
Alison Tompkins, 32, who lives in the Fisher’s Landing area, is running out of unemployment insurance on Saturday. Tompkins has a lung condition, and she is the sole provider for a 10-year-old daughter who suffers from a mental health condition.
When the pandemic began, she had to leave her job at her grocery store to avoid exposure to the virus – which could be deadly because of her lung condition – and she needed to stay home to take care of her daughter.
“Having to suddenly switch to home school, I didn’t’ have any other option,” she said.
Although a job is waiting for her at the grocery store, with COVID-19 cases at their zenith it’s not safe to return. Her average day now involves the struggle to feed her child, oversee her home schooling and managing therapy appointments. She’s been counting on unemployment insurance to sustain her life, but as it cuts off, she doesn’t know what she’s going to do moving forward.
“Everyone is all up in arms about people: that they don’t want to work. That’s not the case,” she said with her voice breaking. “I would love to work. I don’t want to risk dying for it.”