I got an email that said — let me find it and read it to you. The heading is “ATTENDANCE REQUIRED!!” All in capitals, two exclamation points, “W.W. Business Update Meeting.”
OK. So this is what the email says: “Please join your territory manager for an important business update tomorrow, Thursday, May 14 at 4 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m. Central, via an audio-only conference call. It is important that you make yourself available to attend this meeting.” And then it says, “Thank you in advance for your attendance. W.W. Field Management Team.”
So I worked my regular shift. Dialed in at 3 o’clock. The territory manager, reading from a script, essentially said that they’re restructuring the company based on changes that needed to be made for business decision reasons, and that at the end of that call, I would no longer be employed by the company.
And click. That was it. 3-minute phone call.
And I just — I started crying. I mean, I’ve been with the company 18 years. We were fired in a 3-minute call, where we were muted. We weren’t given any information. We were not treated with any empathy. We were not treated with any caring. We weren’t told how important we were to the company. We weren’t thanked for our many years of service. We were just told, you’re not important. We don’t care.
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Three months after mass layoffs began across the U.S., 20 million Americans remain out of work because of the pandemic. Federal unemployment benefits are about to run out. And Congress can’t agree on a new package of financial help. Today: My colleagues speak to laid off workers about the state of their unemployment. It’s Wednesday, June 24.
Hi. My name is Nicolle Nordman. I am 53 years old. I live in Homewood, Illinois. It’s a suburb of Chicago about, oh, about 35 miles south of Chicago. I actually have a Juris Doctorate. So I was a lawyer. But I stopped working full-time back in 1993, because my daughter was born with an illness called cystic fibrosis, which is a genetic disease which causes a lot of complications to the lungs. And she needed a lot of care for her first several years. And I decided that rather than paying a nurse and a babysitter, I would stop working and stay home with her. So all my degrees kind of just fell to the wayside. And I ended up staying at home with her.
And can you tell me where were you working most recently?
I was employed by Weight Watchers for the last 18 years. I had started out part-time. Once she got older and got that lung transplant, I went to work for them full-time. And I had been working for them full-time for almost seven years now.
Can you talk to me — what was Weight Watchers providing in terms of benefits or financial help, or payments after the firings?
They paid us for a week after, an extra week. And they’re giving us a lifetime membership for Weight Watchers. I guess that’s about it.
Health care benefits, any sort of retirement?
No. I’m hoping that I’m going to get unemployment. I’ve applied. I have not gotten anything yet. And you know, if I get the unemployment I’ll be OK until they cut out that extra money at the end of July. But after that, I can’t really live on $250 a week. So I’m going to have a big problem.
You know, I don’t know. I mean, I’m going to have to find another job. And I’m 53 years old and have worked for the same company for 18 years. And you know, yes, I have several college degrees.
But I’ve never used any of them because — or it’s been a long time since I’ve used any of them, let’s say. So you know going back and using any of them is next to impossible. It’s been 26 years since — she’s 27, so 27 years since I’ve used any of them.
So I don’t know what I’m going to do. I really don’t. I have no idea. I think about that every night.
I don’t think I’ve gotten a full night’s sleep in three weeks. I fall asleep at 3:00 in the morning and then I’m back up at 7:00 wondering the same things. And some days I think, OK, it’s going to work out somehow.
And then I move on. And then the next night, it’s not, not so good. But I mean, I know there’s what, several million people in the country going through exactly the same thing as me.
I know it’s a little early. But have there been any silver linings?
I guess, you know, I am stronger than I thought I was. I didn’t let this you know push me back into a depression or anxiety spiral, even though I am having some sleep issues. It’s nothing like what it was, you know, seven years ago before my daughter’s transplant. And I’m not going to let them take away the strength that I’ve gained over the last seven years. I’m not going to let them destroy that.
Thank you so much, Nicole.
Thank you. I appreciate you doing this.
Hi. Is this Analía?
Hi, Analía. This is Sabrina Tavernise from The New York Times calling.
Hi. How are you today?
I’m OK. I’m OK. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. So Analía, I want to go back to the beginning when you first lost your job and what happened.
OK. My name is Analía Rodríguez. I’m 45 years old. I was working at the airport in Fort Lauderdale as a bartender. And I got laid off on March the 20th.
What was that day like? How did you find out?
I was scheduled to go to work. And I received a phone call telling me not to go, that they were, like, closing. And later on, I got a letter on the mail. So, yeah. It was devastating. It was really bad. The type of news is something that you don’t want to hear. It’s nothing that we expect, especially when we have the health insurance benefits. And you know, in my case, it’s a must.
Why is it a must for you?
Well, my husband had an accident last year. He was riding his motorcycle. And he had an accident. He’s suffering from a brain injury. And he also lost his leg. So for me, keeping my health insurance was so important. I worked really hard just because I wanted to be able to take care of him. So —
Now this happened. So once again, we are starting from scratch.
So you were laid off on March 20. And then what happened? What did you do?
I applied for the unemployment online. I mean, it was very hard. It was so much traffic. But it’s very understandable, I’m not the only one here. There’s hundreds of people that are trying to get through it. I woke up at 2 o’clock, at 4 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock. And it was impossible. You’re trying to apply. You get to a certain point, and then they kick you out of the website. And it doesn’t even save your information.
How many times did you try on the website? Do you remember, roughly?
In the beginning, it was every day, you know, every hour. Different hours. I would pick different hours in the day to try to get through it. I called customer service. Like, today, before this interview, I tried seven times to call to see what’s going on. And finally, I got someone to help me today. And fair enough, she didn’t even know anything. Like, she couldn’t help me. I mean, I need the money. I really need it. We are struggling really bad.
Analía, how are you guys doing for food?
Well, we have a food distribution, you know? So you have to go in a car, and you have to make the line.
What is the line like?
The lines are, like, crazy long. Even though if you go early, you have to wait in the car for so long. It’s embarrassing, you know?
Because I’m not doing anything that I’m not supposed to do. It’s embarrassing for me as a person, after working 20 years, coming to this country. And I work really hard to be part of the system.
I came here with a one-year-old son by myself. I never applied for any help. Anything. Because I felt like I could work for it. I don’t want free stuff. I want what is mine.
And that’s why I’m at this point that it’s so embarrassing. You have to go and feel like you’re begging for money, begging for food. You know, I have to email my landlord telling him that I’m going to — you know,
I can’t even give him an answer. OK, listen. My money is going to come in July. And I’m going to pay you everything that I owe. No! I don’t have an answer. Because I don’t know when my money is going to be coming.
So it’s, like, you cannot borrow money from a friend. When are you going to pay him back? So I didn’t sit home waiting for my money or my checks. I had to do something because we need to survive. And then I had to sell my car.
Sorry. When did you sell your car? Tell me about that?
Well, because I don’t have any income. And I can’t pay for anything. So I was, like, OK, you know what? I’m going to try to make a deal, somebody wants my car. Obviously, they don’t give you the money that probably the car is worth. But I could have some money to keep going on. And I had to go to a pawnshop. And I had to sell my wedding ring.
Did you think about it really hard for a long time? Or how did you think about that decision?
Well, it took me almost two months to think about it.
That ring for me, it was like an attachment to him, a reminder, you know, he’s going to survive. Remember, you’re married to this guy. It had a meaning, you know, for me.
So I cried for a few nights. I couldn’t sleep. But my family is first. And I don’t see that the money is going to come anytime soon.
I had to do what I have to do.
Analía, thank you for telling me your story.
Thank you for listening. And I’m sorry if I get, like. so frustrated. But it is the truth.
OK. Thank you very much, Analía.
We’ll be right back.
Hi. [LAUGHS] Yes.
Can you hear me now?
I can hear you fine. Nakitta, thanks so much for doing this. I’m sorry for all the tech confusion.
You’re welcome. It’s OK.
Maybe just to start out, tell us who you are, what’s your name? How old are you? Where do you live?
OK. My name is Nakitta Long. I live in North Carolina. I’m 44 years old.
Tell me where you were working. What were you doing?
I was working in a automotive manufacturing facility. We make airbag sensors and parts for all the vehicles that are on the road, pretty much. And I was hired through a temp agency. I had been working there almost two years. And so being hired on permanently was the goal.
So it was a temp job, but you were hoping it would become permanent?
Yeah. We were continuously getting promised it would become permanent. So we continued to stay and tough it out.
How did you learn that you were going to lose your job?
It was one of my days off. It was during the weekday. My 3-year-old was running around.
And I got an email from the temporary offices agent. And she said, you know, I’ve been trying to reach you. Don’t go back to the location.
And I’m thinking, what did I do wrong? Did I mess up a part? What did I do?
And so when I called her, she just was like, your job is done, effective immediately. Do not go back to the plant. I need your badge. And I, you know, stopped.
I don’t really know what I did. But I know I disconnected from the environment. I disconnected from my 3-year-old. I disconnected from everything.
Like, I’ve got to deal with this. I have to deal with this. What is this about? What is going on here? This can’t be happening right now. Because I have never really been able to save for retirement because my job is temporary. The money hasn’t really been there.
So I don’t have it right now in me to go out here and do this. Where is my resume? I’ve got to update my resume. Oh, my God. I’m too old for this. I don’t want to go back out here and do this.
OK. Am I going to be able to find something where I’m going to be able to cater around my 3-year-old? Am I going to even be able to find a job at all? What am I going to do?
I just thought about my kid. How is my next decision going to affect them? So it was so many thoughts going through my mind. I just had to write down, OK, what bills do I have? What can I let go of? What can I do?
Because I don’t want my kids to be deprived of the life that I’ve worked so hard to provide for them. I don’t want them to suffer through this because of this. How do I keep the atmosphere still positive, still optimistic for them, when I’m going crazy inside. Like, oh, my God, what does this mean? All of these things were going through my head. I was just in [INAUDIBLE].
That’s a lot of thoughts all at once.
And even as you were thinking about all of that, you were thinking about protecting your kids and not letting them see what you were dealing with.
I wanted to make sure that I maintained the environment where they felt like, mom, she’s going to figure it out again. She always does. Mom always gets it right. She always makes it right for us. My daughter’s 17. And she’s talking about college. She’s excited to go away and do all those things that kids want to do when they get 18. They think the world’s an oyster, right? And I was, like, OK. How do I let them experience that and still deal with what we’re doing?
Have you always been in manufacturing?
Pretty much. I had always been in manufacturing the entire time that I was in school, because I had kids. So I could juggle that. I did manufacturing, raised my kids and I went to school.
And so when it came time for me to graduate and be able to use that degree, I was constantly told I was overqualified. Because I would put the master’s degree, thinking it was a great accomplishment. But the employers would say, well, if you have a master’s degree, what’s going to happen is you’re going to get here and you’re going to realize it’s not enough money, and you’re going to want to leave.
So I couldn’t win on either spectrum. I couldn’t really get my foot in the door on any level to do anything. Because I was either overqualified because of my degree, or I was underqualified because I’d never had any experience in criminal justice.
You have a master’s degree in criminal justice? What were you planning on doing with that originally?
I originally planned to go onto law school and get my J.D. and be a judge.
But it never quite came out that way.
No, because life happens. And you have to make adjustments. I was a single mom for quite some time. So I just got really stuck in that cycle of having to take care of my family, make ends meet.
How much did you make in that job?
We started out, when we first got there at $14.25, I believe, an hour. And then, when I ended it was $15.25. And I’ve been at that for almost a year.
Hm. Was that enough for you to get by?
It was just enough. I still had to apply for food stamps. So it was not enough. But I made it work, because it was better than a lot of other jobs that I had worked — working substantially harder, making substantially less.
I mean, I went to school. I did everything I was supposed to do. And I was told — I was promised — that this was part of the dream for a better life. You know?
Those posters that they had up in the schools. And I don’t know if they have them up anymore. You know, a high school graduate makes this much. Someone with a master’s degree makes this much.
Where is that at? Because I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen $50,000 a year.
Once you sort of got through that first wave of emotions, and you’re sitting there and looking at the money you have and the money that’s going to be coming in, what decisions did you make?
I lost my job on March 30. So this was around tax time. What was able to keep my family inside the home that we have — and to keep me from begging, you know, bill collectors from cutting off my lights, cutting off my water, cutting off the gas — was that I was able to tap into my tax refund. And that that was what I was living off of.
And I applied for unemployment. So I called every day, about 20 times a day. Constantly calling back, hang up, call right back. Hang up, call right back. Nothing, no one. So I’m like, OK.
How long did it take to resolve that?
On April 14, I was able to get a resolution. And it said that my claim had been approved, $223 a week, after all my time working. And the additional $600 from the federal government was the amount that I was able to sustain my bills. Because I don’t know who can live off $223 a week. I’m not sure.
You’re getting $600 a week from the federal government? You’re getting $223 from the state of North Carolina? How does that compare to what you were earning when you were working back at the plant?
It is actually more than I was earning. And I think that’s probably the sad part about it, that it is actually more. I’m bringing in now $300 — a little bit over $320 more, I mean, give or take a few dollars, than I was making going to work every day. So it’s allowed me to pay my bills a little bit more comfortably.
You say it’s sort of sad that you’re making more on unemployment than you were working. Why do you say that? Why do you say that’s sad?
That I have to make a decision between working and making less, and staying home and making more, when I’d rather be working. Why can that not be included in salaries? Why can that not be included in wages? I love to work. I want to contribute to society. Be with my peers. I want to meet people at work that are different from me. I want to get out the house, away from my family. [LAUGHS]
[LAUGHS] We all want that right now.
Right? But I want to contribute to society. I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. Don’t we all?
So what are you doing today to prepare for that day when unemployment benefits run out?
Right now I am writing my bills as we speak. I’m writing my bills out. I’m writing down what I can cut. I’m looking and researching areas to live that we can move to to maybe get a livable wage and live safely. I’m doing all of that.
You said you’re thinking about leaving North Carolina?
I’m considering moving to another state if the opportunities are there, for the dreams that I have for my family are there. I’m very open to that, moving to another state, yeah, exactly.
Do you remember a time when you didn’t have to worry about money every day?
Well, Nakitta, I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to us and to share your story with all of us. And I hope that things work out for you soon.
I appreciate that. Thank you for taking the time talking to me.
Nakitta has one week left on her state unemployment benefits. Then she’ll have to apply for an extension. She’s still getting the extra $600 a week from the federal government for now, but that runs out at the end of next month.
She’s been looking for jobs. But with two kids at home, her options are more limited. So she’s really been looking to cut back financially. She told me she’s thinking about getting rid of her car.
And she’s planning for the future. She’s wondering whether with her master’s degree in criminal justice she could get into professional counseling. And she wrote me an email. She said, I know I’ll be able to bounce back. I’m just not sure how long it will take or what sacrifices I will have to make.
We’ll be right back.
Here’s what else you need to know today.
- archived recording (dr. anthony s. fauci)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, ranking member Walden. Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to discuss with you today the role of the National Institutes of Health and research addressing Covid-19.
On Tuesday, during an appearance before a House committee, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the next few weeks would be critical to confronting the dramatic surge of infections in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona.
- archived recording (diana degette)
I’ve seen some data the last few days that, while cases are going up in this country, deaths are going down. Should we see this as a positive sign, or should we still be worried?
- archived recording (dr. anthony s. fauci)
I think it’s too early to make that kind of link, Congresswoman. Let me explain. Deaths always lag considerably behind cases.
During the hearing, Fauci cautioned that the current decline in deaths from the virus could quickly reverse and begin to climb again.
- archived recording (dr. anthony s. fauci)
So you’re seeing more cases now while the deaths are going down. The concern is, if those cases then infect people who wind up getting sick and go to the hospital, it is conceivable you may see the deaths going up. So I think it’s too early to say, because the deaths are going down.
Asked about the timing for a vaccine, Fauci said that he was optimistic that it could be ready by early next year.
And The Times reports that as the European Union begins to lift travel restrictions next month, it may block Americans from entering its 27 countries because of the failure of the U.S. to control the spread of the virus. Beside the U.S., the E.U. may also bar travel from Russia and Brazil. But it is likely to allow entry for citizens of China, where the pandemic began but is now largely under control.
That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.