With jobs lost, New Yorkers fight to survive waiting for unemployment

Posted: 9:40 PM, Mar 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-26 22:44:40-04

HARLEM, Manhattan — Every meal, every bite of food in William Richard’s refrigerator counts.

"I was furloughed from my job Sunday due to the coronavirus, and they said I should call unemployment," he said in a video conference with PIX11.

"This is basically," he said showing the sparsely filled fridge. "[It's] all the good that I have left now, to last me to the next week."

He simply cannot afford to let anything go to waste.

Richard is among the almost 3.3 million Americans who recently filed unemployment claims – their jobs, victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

"My cabinets are empty, can't live on $500."

In many other parts of the country, living on five hundred dollars a week is doable.

In New York City, it’s one step away from homelessness, starvation — or both.

Councilman Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem, sees the struggle.

"This crisis is really crippling, for many folks. Not just my constituents," he said.

New York State labor officials said last week there were 2.7 million web visits to the department website, 1.7 million telephone calls, and 80,500 unemployment claims filed last week alone.

That’s a 520% increase over last year.

Richard said he spent the last four days unsuccessfully trying to file an unemployment claim; just about everyone is doing it now, remotely.

"It's hard because I'm money now," he said.

Dr. Randall Bell is a sociologist and an economist.

He said the cost of living here outpaces even what is included in the federal government’s new stimulus package.

"The impact is huge," he said. "You have not only the individual claims, but you have the ripple effects from them. You have the burden on the government, which is already stressed. Then you have the people collecting unemployment checks. Those checks are not big amounts, so they have to survive on them."

Perhaps the biggest challenge for unemployed workers will be what happens next.

Richard said he's already almost out of money, with his first unemployment check still two weeks away.

He plans to cook the last of his pasts, which he hopes will carry him through the next four days.