Personal Finance

'We're hurting' — Americans are losing $600 of weekly unemployment but many still can't find work

Key Points
  • The $600 weekly unemployment boost lapsed this weekend after lawmakers failed to extend the aid. 
  • Cindy Pineda and Kacey Levesque, two accountants from Florida, will get just $275 a week in state jobless benefits without the federal subsidy. 
  • They've had a tough time finding new jobs, putting them in a difficult financial position. 
Cynthia Pineda lost her accounting job in early April. Without the $600 weekly unemployment boost, she'll get just $275 each week in aid from Florida. Meanwhile, finding a new job has proven extremely challenging.

Cindy Pineda was the breadwinner of her family before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

But Pineda, 60, lost her accounting job in early April. And her husband, an hourly worker who does fiber-optic cabling, has been getting just two or three days of work per week. 

Unemployment benefits have been keeping the family, who live in Davenport, Florida, afloat. 

That's largely due to a $600 weekly supplement to state unemployment checks. But that federal subsidy ended Saturday, leaving the family with $275 a week ($1,100 a month), too little to cover the mortgage and other bills.

Even with the enhancement, her pay is much less than it had been at work.

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Pineda has frantically applied to jobs for weeks. But job postings have fallen and the number of applicants per open position has swelled, she said.

"I was an accounting manager, a controller, and now I'm looking for entry-level accounting positions," she said. "And I can't even get that."

With little income and dim prospects for work, Pineda fears what will happen if Congress doesn't extend the $600 unemployment subsidy or cuts it significantly.

"It's pretty scary out there," she said. "It's pretty scary because where do you turn?"

Collapsing income

The economic recession sparked by Covid-19 hit faster than any other in modern history.

In a matter of weeks, the U.S. unemployment rate spiked from half-century lows to nearly 15%, far higher than any other period going back to the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Nearly 32 million Americans are currently receiving unemployment benefits, according to the Labor Department.

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A federal relief package enacted in March boosted aid for the unemployed by $600 a week, as a supplement to typical state benefits, which averaged $321 a week in May.

That $600 subsidy is expiring this weekend in all states. Democrats want to extend the aid. Republicans want to reduce the subsidy, claiming its generosity is a disincentive to find work.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives at the Capitol for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about the COVID-19 relief plan, on Thursday, July 23.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A proposal floated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could cut the payout by more than half, to roughly $200 to $300 a week

"We're not going to continue it in its current form, because we're not going to pay people more money to stay at home than work," Mnuchin said Thursday on CNBC.

Negotiations on another coronavirus relief package are ongoing, and it's unclear when another supplement, even if reduced, would be implemented. Senate Republicans plan to unveil their legislative proposal early next week.

The bill's delay couldn't come at a worse time for millions of unemployed Americans like Pineda.

I'll work for entry-level wages at this point. Just something I can live off.
Kacey Levesque
unemployed accountant in Florida

Lapsing benefits will lead to "collapsing incomes" for tens of millions of U.S. families, according to Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

Many states no longer have eviction moratoriums in place to protect those who've missed rent payments. A moratorium in place for those in properties backed by a federal mortgage or receiving government-assisted housing expired Saturday.

More than 4 million people without a job reported being unable to pay the mortgage last month — even before the $600 subsidy lapsed, according to a weekly Census Bureau survey of American households. More than 7 million didn't make a rent payment.

Further, more than 13.5 million people without a job recently said they didn't have enough to eat, according to the Census Bureau.

'Fundamentally damaged'

Those who try to find a job may find it difficult in a labor market that remains "fundamentally damaged," Bivens said.

Despite businesses adding about 7.5 million jobs in May and June, there are still 14 million more unemployed workers than there are job openings, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Evidence points to job growth slowing dramatically or even falling this month as coronavirus cases spike and several states have re-imposed shutdown measures.  

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a news conference concerning the extension of eviction protections in the next coronavirus bill, at the U.S. Capitol on July 22, 2020.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Recent Census Bureau surveys imply that employment has fallen by more than 6 million over the last month, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore ISI.

"We have a long way to go," Tedeschi said. "We made great progress in May and June. But we're not even close to a tight labor market yet."

'Down to the wire'

Kacey Levesque says her one blessing during the pandemic was getting sick in March instead of April.

Levesque, a resident of New Port Richey, Florida, was laid off in early March as an accounts receivables specialist for a digital media company, where she made $24 an hour, after the business started losing big accounts.

Shortly thereafter, she spent nearly a week in the hospital with a respiratory virus, which ultimately wasn't diagnosed as Covid-19. Luckily, her company-provided health insurance lasted through the end of the month and covered the expenses.

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But Levesque, 61, has a lingering cough. Her new marketplace health plan requires her to pay more than $8,000 out of pocket before it covers costs like a doctor's office visit.

Levesque has been collecting unemployment benefits, but has avoided seeing her doctor or buying prescribed medication in order to save money in case the $600 subsidy were to run out.

After this weekend, she'll get just $275 in weekly aid from the state. That would cover her $700 monthly rent, but not much else, she said.

Compounding problems, her job search has been fruitless.

"There are so many applicants out there," said Levesque, who is single. "I'll see a job posting and I'll be one of 300 applicants. It's ridiculous."

Entry-level wages

Levesque, a longtime accountant, thinks she's being bypassed for open positions by employers looking for younger applicants with a higher level of schooling. (She has an associate's degree.)

She also can't risk taking open positions at employers like Walmart or Target that are hiring, she said, due to her recent respiratory illness.

"I'll work for entry-level wages at this point. Just something I can live off," she said. "But I'm not about to put myself in a position where I'm around people all the time."

"We're down to the wire and we're not all going to get jobs by the 25th of July," she said. "We're hurting here."

Finding a job has been a full-time job for Pineda, the accountant from Davenport, Florida.

Pineda has worked a series of full-time temp jobs since 2017, when she lost a gig as a salaried accountant after a private-equity firm bought out her employer. She believes her history of temp work and her lack of a CPA designation are handicapping her job prospects now due to employers being extremely selective.

The family has already had to draw down a significant portion of their 401(k) plan, one of their few remaining financial lifelines, to make ends meet.

"I shudder at the fact the $600 is going away," Pineda said. "Even if it's $400, I cant live on that. It's better than nothing, but I can't live on it."