Things That Matter

Are You One Of The Millions Of Americans That’s Lost A Job? Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Unemployment Benefits

The Coronavirus pandemic has decimated economies around the world, but the U.S. in particular has been hit very hard. The country has seen more than 35 million people apply for jobless benefits since the crisis began – pushing unemployment figures to record-setting levels.

As of late April, the U.S. unemployment rate was nearing 15% – the highest since the Great Depression during the 1930s – after being at record lows through February.

If you’re lucky enough to still have your job, you likely know someone who doesn’t. And as state and federal governments try and put together bills aimed at supporting out of work Americans, here’s everything you need to know about the crisis and how you can get help.

The U.S. economy has shed more than 10% of its workforce in just two short months.

More than 33 million jobless Americans have now made unemployment claims in the past seven weeks. These are record-breaking figures that show just how fragile the U.S. economy is. And the figures are in stark contrast to what they were just before the pandemic began.

In March, the official unemployment rate in the was 4.4%, close to a 50-year low, but economists predict it could now be as high as 20%, a level unseen since the Great Depression.

The pace of layoffs has overwhelmed state unemployment systems across the country. Over a million people in North Carolina have now made unemployment insurance benefit claims, equivalent to 20% of the state’s workforce. Some 4 million have applied in California and the state’s jobless benefits fund is “very close” to running out, Governor Gavin Newsom said this week.

Some of the worst hit sectors include industries that employ people of color at much higher rates.

Credit: Ivy Caballo / Getty

Black and Hispanic workers are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis because they are overrepresented in industries that were hit first by social distancing mandates and stay-at-home orders, economists say. These include leisure and hospitality, such as hotels and restaurants; retail; and construction, where Latino men make up more than a quarter of workers.

According to a recent report by UnidosUS, Latinos are 17.6% of the total U.S. workforce, but they make up large segments of so-called essential workers, including 54% of agricultural workers; 38.8% of food manufacturing workers; 29% of medical assistants; 20.5% of grocery store workers; and 18.8% of transportation and utility workers.

Even more serious, Blacks and Hispanics are also dying of covid-19 at higher rates than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In fact, Latinos now have the highest rate of unemployment in the country.

Credit: Stephanie Keith / Getty

At 18%, Latinos have the highest unemployment rate in the U.S, while the jobless rate for workers nationwide stands at 14.7%.

“This devastating economic data affirms that Hispanic and African American communities have been disproportionately impacted during this pandemic,” said Sindy Benavides, CEO of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), adding that “minority-owned small-businesses have been shut out of [Paycheck Protection Program] loans and unable to keep workers on payroll.”

But governments are trying to provide support to the jobless – here’s what you need to know.

For most workers who have been laid off as a result of the pandemic, the first line of defense is to file an unemployment claim. Usually, you’ll be entitled to a percentage of your regular pay. In addition, the CARES Act – passed by Congress in March – will supplement your unemployment benefits by up to $600 per week.

Benefits.gov provides a comprehensive unemployment assistance page in both English and Spanish to help laid-off workers identify unemployment resources in their state.

It’s important to note that for Dreamers and other undocumented workers, they’re mostly left out of the above programs. And most were also denied the one-time stimulus checks. However, there are many resources at Informed Immigrant for refugees and undocumented workers, such as cash assistance and grant programs, rent relief, food banks, medical assistance, and support with renewing DACA status or other legal aid.

Even if you’re part of the gig economy – or self-employed – you could be eligible for unemployment benefits.

It’s also worth noting that thanks to the pandemic, even if you are a gig worker or self-employed, you’re likely eligible for federal jobless benefits – even if your state doesn’t provide them. The federal CARES Act promises unemployment benefits for the first time to gig workers and the self-employed.

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