Americans out of work during coronavirus outbreak see new challenge: Rent due

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Over 30 million people around the U.S. have filed for unemployment benefits after losing work in the coronavirus pandemic — but it’s the start of the month of May, and for many of them, rent and mortgage payments are due.

Federal data released this week showed the U.S. economy contracted at a 4.8 percent annual rate last quarter as the pandemic put the nation into a recession. Economists said they expected January-March to be just a taste of the widespread pain being recorded for April-June. And, while a record number of people applied for unemployment insurance payments, many others out of work haven’t qualified or couldn’t get through the states’ overwhelmed systems.

More than three dozen cities and states, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York state, have put in place their own policies to halt evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs out of concern that the economic fallout from massive job losses will push many people to the brink of homelessness at a time when they’ve needed to stay in their houses and apartments.

However,  while deputies won’t be knocking at their doors, for now, the money is still due, and delaying the payments would put off the pain.


Spokane cook Jason W. Still, 30, said he's waiting for his first unemployment check. (Jason W. Still via AP)

Spokane cook Jason W. Still, 30, said he’s waiting for his first unemployment check. (Jason W. Still via AP)

Jason W. Still said he’s been waiting six weeks for his first unemployment check since he lost his job as a cook at an upscale restaurant in Spokane, Washington.

Still said he’s filed for unemployment every week, with nothing yet to show for it, since he was first interviewed by The Associated Press a month ago, just before he paid April rent.

His wife still had her job in the legal marijuana industry, and his $1,200 stimulus check helped pay an assortment of bills. “But, I’m about to hit my savings and I really don’t want to do that,” he said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee this week announced a partial opening May 5 of some recreational offerings including state parks, fishing and golf courses, but restaurant dining rooms and most other businesses will remain closed for now.

Many experts have been skeptical the U.S. economy will bounce back quickly later in the year, noting that the virus could flare up again — or many Americans might be too worried to return to business as usual.

The United States has continued to see tens of thousands of new infections each day, with over 1,400 new deaths reported Saturday.

Health experts have warned a second wave of infections could hit unless testing is expanded dramatically once the lockdowns are relaxed. But, pressure to reopen has kept building after the shutdown of businesses worldwide plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s and wiped out millions of jobs.

The virus has infected an estimated 3.4 million people and killed over 244,000 worldwide, including over 66,000 dead in the United States, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. All the numbers are considered to be undercounts, due in part to testing issues, the problems of counting deaths in a pandemic and deliberate concealment by some governments.

Anything but an opening soon is unlikely to resolve the anxieties of people whose savings have been running out as the initial wave of service-industry layoffs swept up other hard-hit sectors, including energy.


Eli Oderberg with wife Katie Evers and their 4-year-old daughter, Everlee, outside their home in southeast Denver last week. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Eli Oderberg with wife Katie Evers and their 4-year-old daughter, Everlee, outside their home in southeast Denver last week. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Eli Oderberg in Denver had his mortgage due after being swept up in a later wave of layoffs as the pandemic’s effects spread from restaurants to corners of the economy, including the oil company that had employed him to work on apps tracking spills and leaks.

Oderberg lost his job in Denver on April 19, as global oil futures plunged into negative territory following the shutdowns of air travel, factories and commuting around the world. He said his wife got her first unemployment check after she lost her job in retail, but he’s still waiting for his.

The Colorado website for benefits has confirmed he’s eligible, “but I haven’t been able to get through to talk to anyone after making about 100 calls each time,” he said.


In the meantime, Oderberg has been lining up job interviews in information technology, including at least four this week, and hopes to land something quickly, before he has to scramble for their next mortgage payment for the house he’s shared with his pregnant wife and their 4-year-old daughter.

“From my job, I’m accustomed to planning everything six months in advance,” Oderberg said. “So, we’re going to be OK, for now at least.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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