‘I can’t get a single present’: millions in US barely scraping by amid holidays

For millions of Americans, the Covid-19 pandemic has left them and their families with little money or cause for celebrating the holidays this year.

“My youngest turns six on Christmas day and I can’t even get her a single present,” said Amanda Starr of Lebanon, Ohio, a single mother of three who has struggled to find work after her car was repossessed when she missed payments due to losing her retail job in the beginning of the pandemic.

Starr was one of millions of workers out of work who lost unemployment benefits when federal extended and pandemic unemployment benefits ended in September. She is spending the holidays currently worrying about her family facing eviction soon and has experienced issues in receiving federal childcare tax credit payments.

As of November, 15.6 million workers in the US are still being affected by the pandemic’s economic downturn; 3.9 million US workers are out of the labor force due to Covid-19, 6.9 million workers are still unemployed, 2 million workers are still experiencing cuts to pays or work schedules due to Covid-19, and another 3 million workers are misclassified as employed or out of the labor force, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Several industries are still reeling from job shortfalls compared to prior to the pandemic, such as a deficit of 1.3m jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector and 951,000 lavori in state and local governments.

Laura Nash, 38, di Bellingham, Washington, lost her engineering job on 19 October and has been waiting for over seven weeks for unemployment benefits while searching for a new job.

“Times are definitely tough and I don’t have any money for the holidays,” said Nash. “I’m lucky to be able to tag along with my parents for the holidays, but no gifts.”

She’s had to get by on help from her parents, food assistance through Snap and Medicaid, while continuing to try to push her unemployment benefits through until she finds another engineering job.

Andrea, 49, of Orlando, Florida, who requested to omit her last name, lost her job in restaurant management in late 2020 after getting injured in a car accident and being forced to take a long medical leave to recover.

She’s experienced several issues while trying to obtain unemployment benefits in Florida this year, from having to spend hours on hold to speak with a representative about her claim only to get disconnected, to technical issues and getting locked out of Florida’s unemployment website.

“I’ve cried a lot since April," lei disse. “l haven’t made one single step toward resolving this.I had to leave my vehicle because I had no way to pay for the repairs it needed and I’ve been without a place to call home since around June.”

She’s been homeless since June, often spending nights either with friends or around Walmart parking lots, as she said the few nearby homeless shelters have been full and she hasn’t been able to obtain housing or rental assistance.

“I’m not looking forward to Christmas on the streets, but that’s my reality," lei ha aggiunto.

According to the most recent US Census Household Pulse Survey conducted from 29 September to 11 ottobre, di 20 million Americans reported not having enough food to eat in the past seven days and over 44 million Americans were relying on either Snap or other forms of food assistance in the past seven days. Food banks have segnalato demand is still far above pre-pandemic levels.

“Christmas is solely provided by my parents and in-laws this year as all I can provide is food for my kids, two girls, 13 and 16,” said Alonzo Werner, a welder helper in Wisconsin who applied for unemployment benefits three months ago due to a lack of welding work in his area, but is still waiting for his claim to be processed. “My family has been going to food banks for food and trying to apply for food stamps.”

Colleen Nicole of New Jersey was laid off from her IT job of nine years due to downsizing in March. She’s experienced two long lapses in unemployment assistance since her layoff, when she first applied and since September 2021 when her benefits were mistakenly cut off.

“There is no celebrating the holidays. I do what I can to feel in the ‘holiday mood’, but it’s just stress and the unknown as to when I’ll be able to get the benefits I was told I’d get at this time," lei disse. “I’m thankful I do have some friends that are housing me, since unemployment has caused me to lose my place and ruined my credit, making it impossible for me to get a new place right now. If it does not get resolved by March, tuttavia, I will be homeless.”

Robyn Melissa Hirshburg of Yardley, Pennsylvania, was laid off in December 2020 after the pharmaceutical company Bristol Meyers Squibb terminated the contract she worked under and is still experiencing issues in getting her unemployment benefits approved.

“I’m interviewing non-stop with great companies, but haven’t been able to lock anything in and the holidays spread interviews further,” said Hirshburg, who is diabetic and suffers from heart issues. “There will be no gifts this year for the holiday. This year it’s hard to celebrate any holiday when I have so much uncertainty about being able to afford my home, my utilities and food. I never thought I’d be in this spot.”

As millions of Americans are still out of work, experiencing issues with unemployment delays or trying to find suitable work, many other Americans are still grappling with the loss of loved ones to Covid-19 and the financial impacts associated with suddenly losing a loved one.

Più di 790,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 since March 2020, with some public health experts noting death counts could be as high as 20% more than official counts due to undercounting of deaths.

Olivia WIlliams, 21, of Panama City, Florida, lost her mother, Sharon Williams, in August when her mother caught Covid-19 after a co-worker at the hair salon she worked at tested positive. Williams shared an apartment with her mother and relied on her for financial security.

“Financially, I’ve felt like I’m never going to recover,” said Williams. “We lived together so rent became my responsibility on top of losing my mom and best friend out of nowhere in a span of two weeks.”

Janie Garlick, 56, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, lost her husband, David Garletts, 56, to Covid-19 in October.

A steel worker for nearly 20 anni, he tested positive for Covid-19 on 22 October and was hospitalized shortly after, where he fought for his life in intensive care before passing away on 24 novembre.

“He died that Wednesday night, 9.21pm. It was the eve of Thanksgiving, which was his favorite holiday,” said Garlick.

She is now struggling financially, having relied on her husband’s income, and angry that he did not get vaccinated for Covid-19.

“Our house is too expensive to keep so we must now find another home. We, now I, have custody of our granddaughters and they’re scared we’re going to be homeless," lei ha aggiunto. “Covid stole our loved one, our security, and the pain we feel is unbearable.”

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