/As unemployment claims see record high, hear from those affected

As unemployment claims see record high, hear from those affected

As the number of people infected with the COVID-19 virus continues to climb, so does the number of unemployment claims made in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday morning 3.28 million unemployment claims were filed in the United States between March 15 and March 21, the largest number on record. That number is the equivalent of the entire city of Chicago being out of work — and doesn’t even include those who were not able to file immediately, those who work off the books for their livelihood, or undocumented immigrants who now find themselves out of work. 

With mandatory shutdowns of various businesses across the country, businesses are struggling to keep their employees on the payroll. The number of Americans out of work in the blink of an eye shows just how damaging this virus has been to the U.S. economy.

Here are some stories of those who have had their financial life upended by this global pandemic:

Jamie Gabel and Christina Liberatore Gabel, New York

Last week, Jamie Gabel worked as a physician’s assistant until he was abruptly laid off.

“It’s honestly been a disaster,” said Christina Liberatore Gabel, who lost her job as a hairstylist the week prior. “Both of us have lost our jobs — and so now we’re scrambling to figure out how we can pay our bills, pay the mortgage … kind of trying to figure out how long is this going to last – is it going to get worse?”

Christina says they’re mostly worried about their children, and how much longer they will have to wait out this pandemic. “We have two children, one has autism, and all of his programs are shut down,” she told ABC News. “And he’s regressing right now.”

Christina and Jamie are hoping things return to normal as soon as possible for the sake of their family. “I think they need to really figure out how to get the city up and running as fast as possible,” said Christina.

Anonymous undocumented immigrant, diner chef in Long Island, New York

An undocumented chef at a local Long Island diner, who agreed to speak with ABC News on the basis of anonymity, says he’s been working there for almost eight years. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” he said. “And I can’t apply for unemployment.”

He tells ABC News he’s worried about paying his bills.

“There’s no money coming every week,” he said. “How I could pay my rent? How I could pay my bills? And how I could take care of my family?”

He noted other undocumented immigrants who’ve found themselves in the same position. Some of them, he added, are more afraid than most of getting sick.

“I know some people who are afraid to go to a hospital if they get sick,” he said. “Because, you know, ICE – they are very afraid of ICE.”

He told ABC News that some of these immigrants will be afraid to share their financial struggles during this pandemic. “People are afraid to let their voices out,” he said. “I hope my voice counts.”

Carlton Oakes, inventory supervisor at a global inventory and data collections company in Arkansas

Oakes was midway through job training when he was abruptly laid off. The same day, he sought to apply for unemployment with the help of his wife, Michelle. They first attempted to apply for unemployment online via the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services (ADWS) website, but immediately encountered difficulties.

“The website won’t accept my social security [number], it pops up as invalid — and I’ve had friends who say they’ve had the same problem,” Oakes told ABC News. He turned to the department’s phone lines, which he says were constantly busy.

As a last resort, Michelle Oakes went to the department’s office in hopes of submitting a written application. She was in disbelief when she found out getting into the office wasn’t even a possibility.

“You can’t even get into the office, you have to walk into a plastic walled room,” said Michelle. “You can’t stand 6 feet apart [from other people], it’s maybe 10’ by 10’ if that — and there’s that dropbox that you have to put your application in.”

Wednesday, the Oakes received an updated notice from ADWS regarding filing for unemployment. “They’re referring us to the internet and the phone line,” said Michelle. “But as soon as the phone picks up, there’s a message that says, ‘heavy call volume,’ and you become disconnected immediately.”

Carlton Oakes has still been unable to file for unemployment.

Julianna Calderon, server at a local restaurant in Long Island, New York

Calderon worked at a local restaurant in Long Island, New York, before she was laid off last Tuesday.

“I’ve been working since I was 15 years old,” Calderon, 24, told ABC News. “I never thought I would go through something like this – especially at such a young age.” Calderon says she’s in the middle of paying her student loans, and she just adopted a three-month-old puppy. “I can’t imagine being unemployed for longer than a month,” said Calderon. “I just can’t do it.”

Calderon was one of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who visited the New York State Department of Labor’s website last week to apply for unemployment.

“You’d get through about two pages of paperwork, and the website would just crash,” Calderon said. “It took me two days alone to create an account.”

Once she was able to create an account, the website prompted her to call the department. “Sometimes I would call and it would just be like a dial tone – or it would just hang up on you midway through the automated message,” she said. “It makes you just want to stop trying, but you can’t… because you need money.”

Calderon still hasn’t been able to apply for unemployment, as she says her calls to the NYS Department of Labor have been fruitless. She plans to wake up early Thursday morning, the next day she’ll be able to apply, and attempt to be one of the first people to call the department.

Ryan Connolly, a software developer in Tampa

Connolly worked at RDK Truck Sales until last Tuesday. He sensed something was off when his managers contacted him via Google Hangouts. His premonition proved correct, as he was soon laid off without notice of when to return.

“I was completely on my own at that point — they told me sales were down, phones weren’t ringing … and they had to let go of 10 people,” Connolly said. “For a company of around 50 people, that’s pretty big.”

Connolly hoped to be one step ahead of unemployment filing, immediately looking for available jobs and tried applying for unemployment on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) website.

“I was hoping at that point that I would kind of get ahead of the big unemployment wave, but I was probably just put right in the middle of it,” Connolly told ABC News. “It would try to load, load, load, and I would get failure messages in my browser, so at that point, reality hit, I was definitely not the only one in this boat.”

Connolly still has not been able to apply for unemployment, but remains focused on finding new work by contacting recruiters and reaching out to his personal network. Weary of an overloaded phone line and malfunctioning website, Connolly hopes that the stimulus plan will make a difference, and those currently affected will see greater unemployment benefits in the near future.

Elizabeth Mejias, server at a restaurant in Los Angeles

Elizabeth Mejias was a server at a restaurant inside LAX airport in Los Angeles. Mejias was told not to come into work until further notice last Friday. Her manager informed her that the restaurant would soon cut staff and hours following a hard financial hit to their business from growing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was told to stay at home, stay safe, and that H.R. will let us know if anything happens regarding layoffs,” she continued. For now, she continues to live in limbo.

Mejias’ husband, who works as a mechanic at LAX, also worried about being laid-off as rumors swirled about the possibility of an airport closure. She and her family have a small amount of savings that could keep them afloat for a few weeks, but they worry about being able to provide for their elderly parents who depend on them financially.

She has also been homeschooling her two children following school closures mandates.

“I am worried, but I just can’t show that to my kids,” Mejias said. “I can’t let them see that I’m scared and that I have no control of anything. They look up to us. We are the parents. And what’s the point of panicking if they will make other family members panic more.”

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