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Unemployment Diaries: St. Louisans Face Slim Savings, Little Work Amid Pandemic

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Tyler Keohane, photographed on April 9, 2020, worked as a bartender at two different establishments, including Two Plumbers Brewery in St. Charles.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Tyler Keohane worked as a bartender at two different establishments, including Two Plumbers Brewery in St. Charles. The Lindenwood University student is now on unemployment, after his employers were forced to shut down.

Hundreds of thousands of Missouri residents have filed for unemployment in recent weeks, as countless businesses have closed their doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Many are now wondering if they’ll be able to return to work at all.

St. Louis Public Radio asked unemployed workers how they’re coping during these uncertain times — and what they worry about most.

Editor's note:  Some workers revealed personal details of their finances and work situations in their audio diaries. St. Louis Public Radio isn't using their full names to protect their privacy.

Mary, nanny: I used to have four part-time nanny gigs, but all the families told me they didn’t need me anymore because of COVID-19. Either they’re not working themselves, or they’re working from home. It’s been three weeks since I’ve worked, and I’ve literally lost 100% of my income. I mean, I struggled financially before when I was working, but now I’m rationing the food I have left. I spend my days reaching out to creditors, trying to get them to extend the loans, but it’s hard to get a hold of them. It’s hard to get through to the unemployment office. It’s like nobody’s answering, no one’s there. Most nannies I know are out of work, but no one is helping us or talking about us. Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.

Rob, bookstore worker: The main job I had, which was at a university bookstore, that was about 30 hours a week. That is gone completely, and I cannot live on my 12 to 15 hours a week I’m making with my other part-time job. So that’s kind of been my new reality. I’m doing some other things, like trying to find freelance work or pick up temp jobs, but there’s just not much out there. As someone who is in the workplace as an older professional, it’s not a very optimistic outlook. It’s been a struggle to put aside money and invest money. Everything pretty much comes in and goes back out. That’s the way things are right now. 

Jen, wedding photographer: The outbreak has completely changed every aspect of my life right now. I’m a single mom of three, and I currently fully support them. I have not been able to work since March 14. All of my weddings have been postponed, and I took a few second shooting jobs, and I’m no longer [able] to work any of them. So it’s been pretty difficult trying to find ways to support myself and my kids. I’m trying to do what I can to make ends meet and offer a discount for weddings. I’m very worried about how things are going to turn out, how long this is going to last and if I’m going to run out of money.

Jamie Conoyer, a hair stylist and manager at Hair Saloon in O'Fallon, Missouri, said she's worried her staff won't be able to make ends meet during the outbreak.
Credit David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Jamie Conoyer, a hair stylist and manager at Hair Saloon in O'Fallon, Missouri, said she's worried her staff won't be able to make ends meet during the outbreak.

Jamie, hair stylist and salon manager: Our shop is temporarily closed, which is kind of a scary thought, because we don’t really know when we will open back up due to the virus progressively getting worse at this point. Obviously, I’m worried about losing clients. It’s a huge deal to be off for a couple months for guys to not be able to come in and get their hair cut. I’m worried about my staff being able to make ends meet through the time period of being off for who knows how long at this point. Thankfully, Hair Saloon is still paying us while we’re off, but as most people know, as hair stylists, we really depend on our tips and that’s a huge portion of how we truly try to make ends meet. 

Laura, massage therapy student and employee at the Healing Arts Center: Most of the staff have been furloughed, so that includes myself. Right now, I’m doing oddball jobs for friends and colleagues who know that I’m struggling. I’ve applied for unemployment, [but] I don’t have insurance, I don’t have income. My stepkids are home, so I’ve been pretty focused on homeschooling them, and that’s really helped keep my attention from all the woes and worries that have been piling up. I’ve started this new career path late in life and with the virus, the schooling has been shut down and my work has been shut down. I’m not even sure if it’s worth continuing on in this practice of massage therapy, because who knows what the outcome is, particularly with hands-on jobs. It’s been a struggle, but luckily I’m very grateful to have my family. I’ve really dug into some passion projects of mine, such as playing the ukulele and singing more and building a vegetable garden and a fairy garden to just spread some joy. Because I think that’s what people need in this time: joy and hope. It feels real hopeless, so I’m going to spread some joy.

Tyler, bartender: Due to the new coronavirus outbreak, I temporarily lost both my jobs and am now on unemployment. But what I’m most worried about is my dad, who is a manager at a grocery store. I’m worried because he’s exposed to hundreds of people a day, and he has to keep going into work as long as it’s open. 

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award. 

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.