Furloughed with no jobless benefits, 20-year-old feels "stuck and not able to see a way out"

Furloughed 20-year-old feels "stuck and not able to see a way out"
Furloughed 20-year-old feels "stuck and not a... 04:35

The historic collapse in the U.S. economy due to the coronavirus has swiftly left more than 30 million Americans unemployed. Rachel Petry is one of them. In late March, only a week into her new job as a medical transcriptionist, the 20-year-old College Station, Texas, resident was furloughed by her employer. Nearly a month and a half later, she has yet to receive a cent in state jobless benefits. She spoke with the CBS Evening News about how she is surviving what economists are calling the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Petry first shared her story by texting Norah O'Donnell. We would like to hear from you, too: text (212) 217-1107.

Rachel Petry, a 20-year-old from College Station, Texas, has waited weeks for state unemployment benefits to kick in. Courtesy of Rachel Petry

CBS Evening News: Tell us about what you were doing for work prior to the pandemic. 

Rachel Petry: I had just gotten this really amazing job as a medical transcriber for Skywriter MD. It was more of an office job than a hospital role — we'd listen in on appointments, and transcribe and put them into records. We service different hospitals and sometimes do live calls. It's a job that would take care of my fiancée and me. I had just gotten a new car. A week into the job, I got furloughed. That was really awful because I had somehow finally gotten to a point in my life where I could see the future and take care of it. I filed for unemployment, and I still haven't gotten anything, and that was five weeks ago.

CBS Evening News: What happens when you reach out to Texas's state unemployment office?

I've been trying to keep up online with tracking. That hasn't proven to be very useful. The website crashes constantly. There are certain days where you have to call at certain times. It's getting really confusing to try to navigate through it. It's been a difficult road, I would say, trying to get what I'm owed.

My job filed for me. I asked them if there's anything else I can be doing to speed up the process? After filing, there's nothing you can do. You can call or track. It's really difficult sitting and waiting. I feel like a sitting duck.

CBS Evening News: How have you been getting by since losing your job?

My fiancée Alexis is still working as the general manager of a restaurant, although her hours have been drastically reduced — she was working at least 40 hours a week, and now it's eight. She is basically helping as much as she can. I didn't want to have to do this as an adult, but I borrowed money from my single mother, who is also trying to make ends meet. It's just been worrisome to be stuck in this position and not be able to see a way out.

CBS Evening News: Are there things you're doing differently now in order to conserve money?

We have a change jar. Any time we find change in the house, we'd put it in the change jar. We've been going to places like Coinstar kiosks and banks and transferring that change into dollars and putting that into bank accounts. We have bought food with that spare change.

CBS Evening News: What are the employment prospects like where you live?

I live in College Station, Texas, which is a medium-sized college town. The employment prospects aren't super great. If you're looking for a career, I don't think you would look here. I somehow found my job here, but would hopefully like to transfer to a bigger city.

CBS Evening News: So what job opportunities do you see for someone newly out of work?

Not much. I'm 20 years old and I had a whole plan with my career and my job. I've found myself applying to grocery stores, and the grocery stores weren't taking any more people because so many had applied and so many people started working there. You can't find a job anywhere at the moment.

CBS Evening News: Have you received one of the stimulus payments that the federal government is issuing under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act?

Unfortunately, no. I don't think I'm eligible for one. In 2018, I was still living with my mom. I was one of her dependents. A month after taxes were filed, I moved in with my fiancée. I'm kind of preparing myself to not see that money.

CBS Evening News: What about your fiancée — did she get a check?

Alexis did receive the full $1,200, which was really helpful. She also received unemployment. I think it's just chance and luck right now with unemployment.

In one sense, I feel very grateful and thankful that Alexis received a stimulus check, but at the same time, I feel like I'm mooching. I feel very jealous, I guess. It's a difficult question.

CBS Evening News: How do you feel about Texas's state-wide plans for reopening?

I don't think you should put a deadline on a pandemic. Because it's a virus, and it's going to naturally take its course. Reopening is a scary thing for us. We think the protesting happening kind of pushed the councils to start reopening when it's really not time. I think it would help Alexis and I with money, but it would still be a very scary thing. I don't want Alexis to get sick.

CBS Evening News: It sounds like you're ambivalent despite eased restrictions potentially helping both you and your fiancée financially.

Definitely. It really concerns me, and definitely concerns Alexis, because Alexis has to be around people. It's terrifying because we both have pre-existing health conditions that put us at the top of the list when younger people contract coronavirus. 

CBS Evening News: What happens if this crisis goes on longer than you anticipated? How do you see yourself faring?

I can see myself just getting angrier and angrier with a system that just feels like it doesn't care right now. It feels like the system is caring more about profit rather than people at the moment. I don't think that I'd be able to stretch it that far. I think we'd be in serious, serious trouble and we'd end up owing a lot of money.

— Video edited by Josh Carney