American Workers Laid Off Amid Coronavirus Pandemic Face Sleepless Nights: 'How Are We Going to Pay Our Bills?'

Until last week, Aleyah, an 18-year-old college student from Austin, Texas, worked in the same restaurant as a member of her family. They used their combined income to support her studies at college. Then they were suddenly laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's like a chain reaction," Aleyah, who did not give her surname, told Newsweek. "My plan from here is to take it day by day and to see what happens with my college and what happens on the daily."

Millions of Americans have either lost or will lose their jobs as the coronavirus crisis throttles the economy amid lockdowns, quarantines, and closures. A deep and painful recession is beginning. Amid speculation of a depression, Congress is negotiating a $1.8 trillion stimulus bill.

"I know it's not the government's fault this is happening but they should take into consideration that a majority of people live check to check and can't afford to live without a few days' pay let alone a whole month's worth," Aleyah told Newsweek.

"There should be a way for them to pause rent, debts, bills, and other things that would significantly hold back thousands of families in the U.S. And I mean drastically hold them back financially."

A flood of unemployment claims is overwhelming state labor department websites. The investment bank Goldman Sachs estimated that 2.25 million Americans lost their jobs last week which, if borne out by the official data, would be a record.

Jason Nugent, 45, from Murphysboro, Illinois, had worked for nearly two decades at the same promotional products company. Last week, sales collapsed as events were canceled and schools closed, evaporating demand for printed materials.

Nugent, who was a senior account executive, was laid off along with more than half of the firm's 70 employees. "I had no idea they were going to lay off that many people, myself included," he told Newsweek, adding that the firm said they'd rehire when feasible. But he is not holding out hope.

He applied immediately for unemployment insurance and has to wait 10 days to find out if he is eligible to receive anything, which he believes he is. For now, they must rely on his wife's income—she works full time at an energy utility—and limit their outgoings.

"We've already had to cut many expenses to make sure we don't get into a deep financial hole," Nugent said.

"It would be amazing if the government took this pandemic seriously from the beginning so businesses didn't get in this situation.

"If they'd make the relief money available quickly so the added burden and stress of providing for my family is minimized, that would help this tremendously."

Nugent added: "I've already applied for other jobs, though with the current crisis unfolding, I don't expect anything to happen for some time. I can only hope we get the unemployment money so we don't fall into any dire financial needs."

The White House plans for stimulus include mailing checks to American households to help them through the worst of the economic downturn. There is also financial support including grants and loans on the table for businesses facing collapse.

Senate Democrats blocked the stimulus bill over the weekend, arguing it did not go far enough to support American workers and instead prioritized corporations. Republicans accused the Democrats of playing political games. There will likely be a fresh vote in the U.S. Senate on Monday.

As the wrangling continues in Congress, the lives of ordinary Americans are thrown into turmoil by the loss of employment. A restaurant worker in Galveston, Texas, who did not want to be named, told Newsweek she was one of 15,000 laid off locally last week.

"Our owners told us that we're looking at being laid off for about two weeks to a month. Obviously everyone is stressing, how are we going to pay our bills?" she told Newsweek.

"Most people who work in restaurants make their money by tips or if they get paid hourly it isn't much, so it's a pretty stressful situation. I'm hoping that the government has a financial aid relief fund since this is a national crisis."

She packed her bags to head home to the Rio Grande Valley and spend time with her family until her work situation becomes clearer. Her employer "handled the situation the best they could," she told Newsweek.

"They were devastated to tell us that we were being laid off, they cried, we all cried, but we are also very optimistic and hope that this will only last a couple of weeks," she said.

"They printed papers out for us with directions and links for unemployment and said if we needed anything that they would be there for us. They treated us very well. They are also going through this as well."

Student Zaira Paredes of California said she "could have it much worse," but she lost her Work-Study job because of campus closures. A paid internship at an entertainment company was also put on hold until further notice. They were her two income sources and now they are gone.

"Losing all income just brings a bit of stress as I mainly support myself throughout the school year. I have savings, but all of that has been accounted for to pay my rent," Paredes told Newsweek.

In Chicago, Illinois, Dennisse Quiridumbay, 21, worked at a dental office for the past three years. It was a well-paid role, but one that came to an end because of the coronavirus outbreak. And she had no medical benefits, either. "It made things difficult," Quiridumbay told Newsweek.

She said the daily financial struggle for many families in Chicago is now a whole lot worse because of the pandemic. She is in around $7,000 of debt herself.

"It's sad to see," she said. "My family is really afraid of the outcome of this, we never know at this point how life is going to be and if their jobs are secure. My sister also works in the dental industry and they let her know that in one month they might not have work, I mean it's really like a win or lose game here."

There is a silver lining, however. Quiridumbay saw an advert that Amazon was hiring so she registered to join the internet retail giant's vast workforce. "I feel grateful that I was able to get an opportunity to work for Amazon," she told Newsweek.

"I was not able to sleep knowing that I have no job or no type of income coming in so it was very stressful and I did have anxiety. But thankfully I was able to find something.

"Some people may not have that opportunity so it's important that we be grateful for what we have and, if we can, help others."

US unemployment jobs economy recession coronavirus
A usually busy Main Street in Livingston, Montana after the state's governor ordered the closing of restaurants, bars, and theaters on March 20, 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. William Campbell-Corbis via Getty Images