Illustration: Paul Hoppe

6 Jobless Workers. 6 Different Salary Levels. Zero End in Sight.

As the $600 unemployment benefit expires, we spoke to six workers whose lost incomes range from $13,000 to $150,000-plus a year

Mari Uyehara
Published in
15 min readJul 30, 2020

Millions of Americans who are barely staying afloat are about to lose their lifelines. Unless the Senate acts quickly to extend the extra $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit— part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in late March — it will fully expire tomorrow, cutting unemployment benefits by half or more. Republicans just proposed a drastic reduction to $200 per week, arguing that the extra benefit disincentivizes people from looking for work — and setting up a fight with Democrats who have been pushing to continue the full $600. The loss or extreme reduction of that subsidy may spell devastation for millions of Americans and cost our faltering economy an injection of billions of dollars.

As the coronavirus pandemic has hobbled entire sectors with no end in sight, nearly 30 million Americans — about one in five workers — have been laid off. The suffering is widespread but unevenly distributed: The crisis has only underscored the country’s fault lines of inequity. Women and Hispanic and Black Americans have borne the brunt of the financial catastrophe, along with younger and lower-wage employees — those who will struggle to stay afloat without federal assistance.

And as 6 million Americans signed up for food stamps and 5.4 million lost their health insurance in the midst of a pandemic, billionaires got 20% richer and executives pulled in fat bonuses and exit packages even as their companies filed for bankruptcy or laid off thousands. At the moment, the national employment rate is 11.2% — down from its May peak of 14.7 but still catastrophic.

To illuminate the spectrum of joblessness amidst a plague, we interviewed six unemployed workers around the country, at six rough levels of income, about their day-to-day lives.

Liliana, 51

Work: Housekeeper, Wharton, NJ
Lost wages: Roughly $13,000; unable to apply for unemployment



Mari Uyehara
Writer for

Culture and politics writer based in Brooklyn and western Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in GQ, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and more.