(Reuters) – Optician Ali Nelson sent the final few orders of eyeglasses to clients last week before her Washington D.C.-based store closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Without a paycheck indefinitely, Nelson is one of potentially tens of millions other Americans whose livelihoods are now in doubt because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits last week surged to a record 3.28 million, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, the clearest evidence yet of the coronavirus’ devastating impact on the economy.
Behind the numbers are worried workers like Nelson.
She has already filed to receive unemployment benefits, a relatively painless process that took minutes online. But Nelson is unsure of how much money she might receive, and worries how she’ll support a family of six on the amount.
The maximum offered in the District of Columbia – about $450 a week – will not be enough to cover her rent in Fairfax County, Virginia, much less health insurance, groceries and utilities.
“This is not sustainable,” said Nelson, 52, the primary breadwinner in her household, which includes her veteran husband who is in school and two working kids.
Many of the millions of Americans bracing for life on unemployment benefits are doing so for the first time in their lives as retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants and other small business shut due to the outbreak.