Stories of Americans suddenly jobless from the coronavirus pandemic

30 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last six weeks, as the pandemic ground the U.S. economy to a halt. Scott Pelley met a few of the many who are trying to get back on their feet.

Stories from coronavirus layoff victims

As May begins, millions of Americans delete another month of calendar events for the job they never expected to lose. They made plans; graduates entering the hottest economy in a generation, entrepreneurs with their dream in sight and workplace veterans tuning their retirement. Thirty million Americans have filed for unemployment in six weeks. The people you're about to meet signed up last month for a Philadelphia online job fair. It was just four hours of local businesses with open positions but 1,300 people waited in chat rooms for a chance. They wonder how fast the economy should open and find themselves in a strange place, with hours on their hands and time running out.

Courtney Clifton: I actually got the information off of the news. 

Courtney Clifton logged on and applied for work in a call center, a long drop from the catering company she built on a dream.

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Courtney Clifton

Courtney Clifton: Amuse Bouche Cuisine was started in about 2015, right after I graduated culinary school. We started out doing small parties and doing the traditional catering events. Our client list has grown exponentially.

Scott Pelley: And since COVID-19?

Courtney Clifton: Whew. All of a sudden, my clients were calling and emailing. "We have to cancel. We have to postpone." We started losing events (SNAPS FINGERS) like that. 

Scott Pelley: And what happened to your business?

Courtney Clifton: We went from six employees to two. And now we have none.

Her husband is still working in home health care. Courtney applied for a government emergency loan, but that hasn't come through. The largest bailout in history has lurched forward. The small business administration's paycheck protection bailout was partly cleaned out by big business. Government websites have been overwhelmed.

Courtney Clifton: The last time I checked, it was in red at the top of the page. And it said, "We are unable to offer any information at this time. Please check back later." 

Scott Pelley: But there is no later for your employees.

Courtney Clifton: Unfortunately, not. I had tears in my eyes when I had to tell my right-hand woman, who is also a family member, that her only source of income-- I-- I-- there was nothing that I could do. 

Scott Pelley: Have you been able to get unemployment?

Courtney Clifton: I have applied. But I haven't received a response yet. 

State unemployment offices are jammed. Nationwide, in March, only 14% of new applicants had received their first check, according to the public policy research group, the Century Foundation. 

Scott Pelley: What about your stimulus check? You should have $1,200 coming from the government.

Courtney Clifton: Yeah, that's something that I was definitely looking forward to. And my husband actually has an app that allows you to see your mail that's coming to you. So, I've seen a picture of the envelope that has the check. But I actually haven't received it yet in the mail.

Scott Pelley: How long before you're broke? 

Courtney Clifton: Now. 

Tim Yabor also heard about last month's job fair on the news. 

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Tim Yabor

Tim Yabor: My boss said, "Do you have a couple minutes to talk on Zoom?" And that's when it happened. 

In those 'couple of minutes on Zoom,' Yabor, 55, was laid off after decades in sales for hotels and, then, a convention center. 

Scott Pelley: When was the last time you were unemployed?

Tim Yabor: I was never unemployed. This is the first time.

Yabor's wife still has a job in insurance. And she's working from home.

Scott Pelley: What keeps you up at night?

Tim Yabor: That my kids will ask me for money that, before, I would just give them money. I worry that we can make our mortgage, that we can have food. And, you know, pay our bills.

Scott Pelley: Have you thought of going to the food bank?

Tim Yabor: Thought and did. I passed by a food bank. I wasn't as bad as the people that were standing in line. They needed it more than I did. 

This was the need in Philadelphia on Thursday. For the pandemic, the city helped set up 40 food lines, open every Monday and Thursday. 32,000 boxes of groceries a week. Some of those in line these days are the kind of workers Robin Barbacane has helped in her long career.  

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Robin Barbacane

Robin Barbacane: I'm a human resources executive. So, I've coached hundreds of people, maybe thousands of people, through the process.

Scott Pelley: What is your advice?

Robin Barbacane: Typically what I tell them, the first thing, is to, you know, realize that you have to look at this as a full-time job and you have to work at it every single day. 

Scott Pelley: Have you been able to take your own advice?

Robin Barbacane: I've tried. There are good days and there are bad days.

The bad days started with her layoff in March. She applied at the online job fair for the kind of positions she held a decade ago. 

Scott Pelley: What does a bad day look like?

Robin Barbacane: Well, I'm a mom. So, a bad day can't really be a bad day. You have to-- you know, you have to kinda be the rock to hold the family together. You have to hold everything together for your kids. So, there's not a lotta time to take a moment.

Her family would feel more confident, she told us, if politicians showed more leadership and less partisan bickering. 

Robin Barbacane: The kids are watching. And, you know, they're watching the adults lose their minds and go crazy and fight over ridiculous things. And it's awful. It's really hard to try to think that, you know, "What's the future gonna be for our kids?"

And will that future be undermined, she wonders, if the economy doesn't open and soon.

Robin Barbacane: Definitely, we have to balance public safety and health. But at the same token, we have to look at what's gonna happen to our economy. And, you know, are we gonna completely cripple our society from being in financial ruin? I think that's really, really scary, to be part of that and be caught up in that, and worry about what's gonna happen to your family.

Many families were anticipating graduation season, sending sons and daughters into the best economy in a generation. Reid Henzel graduated in December with a job in hand, which vanished. 

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Reid Henzel

Scott Pelley: Are you back with your parents?

Reid Henzel: So I'm actually living with my girlfriend's parents right now and with her and her family. 

Scott Pelley: What's it like living there?

Reid Henzel: I've been trying to work around the house, help as much as I possibly can so I'm avoiding that freeloading. 

Nearly 4 million students are due to graduate this spring — into an economy that shrank at a rate of nearly 5% in the first quarter — the worst since the great recession. 

Reid Henzel: Everyday it's going on to LinkedIn or Indeed or Glassdoor. Reaching out, having a cover letter ready, a resume already made up.

Scott Pelley: How many have you applied for?

Reid Henzel: Around 25 or so. 

Scott Pelley: And you have answers from how many?

Reid Henzel: Zero.

Wall Street and government economists estimate the economy will shrink, in the second quarter, at a rate near 40%, rivaling the great depression. 

Erin McCahill: Sometimes you get up and you have, you know, three, four, sometimes seven or eight, "We're not going to move forward with you in this position. We have someone else who's more qualified." 

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Erin McCahill

Erin McCahill was director of sales for a major telecom. She's back in the job market after running her own consulting shop. She took a shot at Philadelphia's online job fair. 

Erin McCahill: Each company that was part of the job fair had a window, a room, what they called it. So you could go into the room, see what jobs they had open, and decide to get in line. Once you got connected with a recruiter, you had about four minutes to tell them who you were, what you were looking for, and learn a little bit about their company.

Scott Pelley: They gave you a time limit?

Erin McCahill: Yes. And you could see the clock counting down. 

Her goal is ten applications a day. 

Erin McCahill: Some positions that I've applied for, they question why I'm applying for the job.

Scott Pelley: Because?

Erin McCahill: I'm overqualified for that position. 

Scott Pelley: You would take those jobs?

Erin McCahill: Yes. I have to do what I have to do right now.

Especially since neither unemployment insurance nor the stimulus check have come through. 

Scott Pelley: We were told that help was on the way.

Erin McCahill: I haven't gotten it yet.

The U.S. Treasury says about 80% of households have been issued stimulus checks including the home of Saleena Temple who had been a paralegal in law offices for 20 years.

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Saleena Temple

Saleena Temple: I got a telephone call from the office manager. She said that the office would be closing indefinitely. And that basically was it. Two weeks after that, I received a letter that my health insurance would be terminated at the end of March. 

Scott Pelley: Do you have any health issues?

Saleena Temple: I do, yes. Yes. I have suffered with low iron for a long time. And it caused damage to my heart. And I actually was in the hospital in November. 

Nearly 13 million Americans likely lost their health insurance with their jobs according to research by the Economic Policy Institute. 

Saleena Temple: I cannot get the medicine because I don't have health insurance. I can't follow up with my primary doctor because I can't pay for a visit. 

Despite heart trouble she was working full time and studying. She's three classes away from an MBA. Her son is graduating too, but tuition bills have left her with loans to pay.  

Scott Pelley: What do your student debts come to? 

Saleena Temple: They are somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000, that includes my son's education as well.

Scott Pelley: How are you gonna make those payments?

Saleena Temple: I have no idea. It actually terrifies me. I try not to focus on that because the thought process can be really dark during those times.

Scott Pelley: You're the first person in your family to graduate college. And now your son and daughter have gone on to higher education. How does the American dream feel to you?

Saleena Temple: It doesn't feel like a dream at all. 

Courtney Clifton: I used to go to the grocery store maybe once a week. And I would spend anywhere between $100 to $150 during my trip. Now it's-- it's a challenge because I spend about $20, $25 a week as opposed to $100, $150. And I make it work.

Courtney Clifton, the catering company owner, hasn't heard back on that call center job. Like the others who spoke with us, she longs to know what her new world will look like and when she will see it. 

Courtney Clifton: I thank God that my husband has a job that will allow us to at least pay our rent. But that's it. My business was my sole income.

Scott Pelley: How do you imagine your catering business coming back?

Courtney Clifton: I'm not sure because not only am I gonna have to wait until they open up the state, which is this, you know, so many steps plan. Once they open the state, then I have to wait for people to feel comfortable enough to start going out in public again. And then I have to wait until people are comfortable enough to start planning events with people gathering together. And the only thing keeping me going, my husband and my faith in God.

Produced by Aaron Weisz. Associate producer, Ian Flickinger. Edited by Sean Kelly.

  • Scott Pelley
    Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"