Working in a Pandemic: Columbia Employees Share Their Stories

By Jordan Rodriguez 

Staff Writer

By Ella Koeze. Employment rates are seasonally adjusted. | Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Unemployment: Prior to Covid-19, the unemployment rate was 3.5% to 4.0% from 2018 to 2019. But since then, over 20.5 million people have lost their job and the unemployment rates have jumped to 14.7% in April of 2020, which is the highest rate of unemployment since The Great Depression. 

Covid-19, the pandemic that took everyone by storm. It has impacted many over the past year and has taken away millions of jobs. For many, this led to returning to work with greater responsibility in the same job title, but with cut hours and cut pay. Some people stated that because of Covid-19, they fear for their financial and physical safety. Some people say that they would rather take the unemployment benefits than go to work everyday. Wages were cut due to the lack of business that was coming in and caused them to lose tons of money. Driving apps such as Uber and Lyft have been declining rides due to too little or no one wanting to be in the car with a stranger and risking the safety of both rider and driver. 

“Struggle of paying bills.” This is a global issue. There are many low-income to upper-middle-class households that are struggling to get payments done on time or pay loans or even just to pay regular bills. Based on a survey conducted by RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank, 4 out of 10 Americans can’t pay any rent, mortgage, or utility bills. Over two million homeowners missed their May mortgage payments. And over 300,000 people cannot pay their rent on time because of the cut back hours and wages. Rand’s survey said that 40% of black households and half Hispanic households report issues with paying their bills and only 21% of that is white households.

The impact in Columbia. I’ve been working at Jimmy Johns for almost two years, and worked throughout the pandemic. I interviewed some of my coworkers that I currently work with at Jimmy Johns in Columbia who are actively working during this pandemic. I wanted to see from their point of view the kind of struggles they have going on working at a small franchise. I had asked these four people a series of questions and these were the responses. 

This is Jordan Rodriguez and Kristee Schmidt leaving with Chick-Fil-A from a long work day.

Amanda Henry is an assistant manager at Jimmy John’s. She is 34 years old with one child. She currently works around 36 hours, but prior to covid, she worked roughly 50 hours. While she is at work, her child does not receive an active meal plan, and instead eat whatever is available in their house. Amanda believes that,because of covid, business has slowed down by a lot. Due to covid, hours were cut back and have therefore impacted her regular paychecks. She has struggled to pay bills because of the low income. But while her paychecks and hours decreased, her bills, including internet, heat, and food became more expensive. Her opinion on covid-19 is “unemployment rates are understandable but very unfortunate and the government needs to help.” 

The next person I spoke with is Robin Taylor. She is a 32-year-old mom with four children and is the general manager at Jimmy John’s. Her hours are currently 35-40 hours because of quarantine and previously worked 40-50 hours. The meal plan she has for her children is packed lunches. They have no specific meal plan laid out but still receive lunch.

Before covid, Jimmy John’s averaged around 50 to 100 hours but now averages around 30 to 60. Because of the pandemic, business has slowed down and Jimmy John’s does not have numbers that compare to before the crisis. 

The pandemic has impacted Robin’s paychecks and she constantly has to choose what she can and can’t pay off because of her hours being cutback. She now can’t pay all her bills in one paycheck. Her thoughts on the situation are “I think people take advantage of it. It’s not fair that people get to a state where they are afraid for their lives and decide not to go to work and get unemployment while others have to go to work every day in the same environment.” 

This is Jaris Schmidt enjoying his sandwich on break.

In my third interview, I talked to Jaris Schmidt. He is 17 years old and a high school senior at Hammond high school. He works at Jimmy John’s as an in-shop. Jaris works 20-30 hours because of the pandemic. But just like everyone else his hours have been cut back but not as many as Robin and Amanda. He doesn’t struggle to pay any bills because he works just enough to cover his expenses. He said that if he were to lose his job he thinks that he won’t find another job because not many places are hiring. School has been harder for him because he has a learning disability and struggles with his school and job. He doesn’t work many hours during the day but gets weekends off. He states that “It’s outrageous how many people lost their jobs due to Covid.” 

The last person I spoke with was Khaleb Mair. He is 18 years old and is a freshman in college at Howard Community College. He works at Big Lots and is an assistant manager. He works around 25 to 30 hours during the pandemic and 15 to 20 hours during the holidays. He agreed when I asked him if he thinks his hours will get cut back due to the low business that the store is bringing in. He currently does not pay any bills and while being the only store open for a certain amount of time during the pandemic has affected his paycheck but not in a negative way. He is an essential worker and gained hours because of it. He thinks that it is easier now to work because he doesn’t have the struggles of having to drive to school. His opinion was that “I would say that the rise of unemployment is bad because by now most jobs have opened back up and those who did not have a job due to the pandemic should be able to work now but most have not.”

In my interviews, it’s clear to tell that even at a job like Jimmy Johns, the issues in the economy are hitting us just as hard as anyone else and causing an issue of its own when trying to pay bills during COVID.

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