Record Unemployment: Faces of the Jobless During the Coronavirus

As shopping centers emptied, shows were canceled and office towers turned dark, millions of people suddenly found themselves without jobs.


They are ad executives, handymen, servers and wedding D.J.s. They worked in law firms and hotels and retail stores and concert halls. As the outbreak spread, the coronavirus sucked workers from every corner of the American economy.

The unemployment rate soared last month to 14.7 percent, the highest level on record, according to government data released Friday. In February, it was 3.5 percent, a half-century low. While states try to gradually reopen after sheltering and shutdowns, barely more than half the adult population of the United States now has a job.

Among those who lost their jobs, many were furloughed, left with a sense of hope that their situations were temporary. Freelancers and self-employed entrepreneurs found themselves without gigs. Others were laid off.

Some people tried to find new jobs, unsure if any existed, or applied for unemployment benefits, only to find themselves stuck in interminable bureaucracy. Many stretched the stimulus checks they received from the federal government. They learned to live lean — canceling subscriptions, rationing food and pleading with creditors for extensions. They felt pressured by stress, or loneliness, or uncertainty.

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Credit…Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times

“I want life to go back to normal, to go to work, to be surrounded by my co-workers, to have something to do.”

Credit…Benjamin Lowy for The New York Times

“I’m not looking for a handout. I’m just looking for these benefits. I don’t have a dollar to my name.”

“The level of anxiety and fear is growing by the day … we have no support with our profession in the entertainment field.”

Credit…Jacob Pritchard for The New York Times

“The journey to get through to unemployment has been unpleasant, if unsurprising. I tried filing online dozens of times, only to have it boot me out of the process at various points. ”

Credit…Kholood Eid for The New York Times

“It’s very scary. Every day I wake up hoping I will get my unemployment benefits, but I haven’t gotten it.”

Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

“I’m stuck, I’m frustrated, and I don’t really know where to go from here.”

Credit…Ryan Young for The New York Times

“I’m not letting myself think about tomorrow, just about whether we have food today and money in the bank.”

Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

“I used my stimulus check to pay my light bill, and I’m using that to keep groceries and stuff in the house. But other than that, I don’t have any other income, and I’m almost out of money.”

Credit…Jacob Pritchard for The New York Times

“We are stuck with absolutely nowhere to turn.”

Credit…Jacob Pritchard for The New York Times

“I was grateful that my role was not terminated completely, but it was definitely still a shock and I had to think quickly about how I would manage.”

Credit…Jacob Pritchard for The New York Times

“This was my first journalism position out of college. I’d thought we would all ride out the storm together. Instead I lost my dream job.”

Credit…Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

“There’s so many things up in the air right now, and it’s so stressful.”

Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

“I never imagined this kind of job market where the entire advertising industry has been crushed.”

Credit…Caroline Yang for The New York Times

“It was two weeks of just panic — I was just going off the groceries I already had, trying to ration until money came in.”

“We have not been able to afford to pay rent. We paid for the utilities and bought food. If we paid rent on top, we literally wouldn’t have anything left.”

Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

“In a moment, I became both jobless and homeless.”

Credit…Jacob Pritchard for The New York Times

“I know my job as a dental health care professional is extremely high risk, and I knew that I would be first to be laid off and last to be reinstated.”

Credit…Jacob Pritchard for The New York Times

“All my friends in the theater industry essentially lost their jobs and livelihoods the same day. The ripple effect of it knocked me back.”

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“It was like, this is unbelievable, this is not really happening.”

“Other generations have dealt with far worse with wars and such. It also helps just knowing that we’re all in this together for once.”

“We’re praying my wife doesn’t lose her job … but we have cut back, and will continue to dip into our savings when necessary.”

“When music is your job, you’re always working toward the next performance, but now that we don’t have a next performance, our only goal is for our son to grow up knowing the joy that music can bring.”

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