Unemployed California Workers React to End of Unemployment Benefits

In response to the Covid-triggered 2020 recession, the federal government created multiple federal benefit programs, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which offers unemployment benefits to people not usually eligible for unemployment. 

According to The Century Foundation, approximately 1.05 million Californians will lose PUA benefits by September 4th and over 900,000 people will lose payments they receive from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.  This decision directly affects gig workers, the self-employed, and longtime recipients of unemployment benefits. The $300 weekly supplement is set to end on Labor Day.

Who is receiving unemployment benefits in California?

According to California Policy Lab, 35% of California’s Federal-State Extended Duration (FED-ED) recipients are Hispanic, 31.8% white, 15.2% Asian and 8.8% Black. 

I spoke to two California residents receiving unemployment benefits to hear their thoughts on the federal decision to end the unemployment program. 

62, Male, Agricultural Worker

California resident Juan has worked in agriculture for 20 years, until the company he worked for shut down last year. Juan shares that he has been making slightly more money from unemployment benefits than from his job in agriculture. He says this was the first red flag. 

“How is it possible to be receiving more money from unemployment benefits than from my actual job?” Juan asked. Thousands of California workers receive minimum wage. The average rent for a small apartment in California is $1500 a month. 

After losing his job, Juan decided to move to Mexico with his wife. He thought it was the best way to keep providing for his family. “I tried to search for work for the first two months after losing my job, without luck, and fear of losing unemployment benefits was too high to keep paying a $1800 monthly rent. I thought moving to Mexico was the best option as costs would reduce significantly.” 

After looking for work for two months, Juan is back in California. Juan shares, “I was able to save during the last month living in Mexico, but the fear of not being able to find a job soon is present every day, and I don’t know what I am going to do. Companies don’t usually hire 62 year old folks.”

26, Female, Marketing Freelancer

Melanie is a recent marketing graduate from a top marketing program. She was working as a freelancer for a startup in San Francisco when the pandemic hit in early 2020. She lost her job and has not been able to find a full-time job since. 

“I was living my dream as a Latina first generation college graduate,” Melanie shared. “Life couldn’t get better as I was studying in my dream school and making my parents proud.” 

“After losing my freelance job, things got challenging. I struggled to pay for rent. My studies continued and marketing positions were nowhere to be found.”

Melanie says she has been looking for a job for over six months. Thousands of California residents share Melanie’s story – graduating during a global recession and having a difficult time finding work during the pandemic. She is one of thousands of Californians set to lose unemployment benefits on September 4th.

According to the Century Foundation, an estimated 7.5 million people in the United States will lose unemployment benefits when pandemic related programs end next month.

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