Students lose jobs, face unemployment following new COVID-19 prevention policies

The McMenamins dining room sits mostly empty in January, 2020. 

Adriana Gutierrez, News Contributor

The recent changes in local and federal government due to COVID-19 have created state-wide unemployment spikes as businesses are changing policy to limit contact, leaving students facing uncertain futures without steady paychecks.

“The hardest part is that it was an out-of-the-blue notice,” said Claire Halaka, a fourth-year student studying human development and family sciences at Oregon State University.  “A couple days before they told us our hours were being cut and that we were closing earlier… I remember talking with one of my managers about the potential of laying off some people. Two days later we got a call, and my managers got laid off as well.”

Halaka was employed as a line-cook at McMenamins, a local pub in downtown Corvallis. All of the chain’s restaurants have now closed down, besides one location in Portland, leaving thousands of employees applying for unemployment status, including Halaka.  

McMenamin’s did not respond to a request for comment before publication. 

“I completely am supportive of the actions of companies and the state government of closing things down to prevent people from going out, but I wish that the state and federal government had more support in place before they started closing everything down,” said Halaka.

Students working on campus are also facing job insecurity now that remote teaching has been put in effect. 

Caydan Henslee is a third-year studying marketing while also working with OSU’s Our Beaver Nation as an event planning intern. Herself and three other employees were asked to leave, with plans to come back on April 30. 

“My biggest concern is not having that steady income, and personally for me, the lack of not feeling busy,” said Henslee. “My housing can [also] get shut down… which is a big thing especially because I already paid to live there for the entire year: my food, my utilities, so am I going to get reimbursed?”

Henslee is a member of Sigma Kappa, a sorority with approximately 45 members living in the off-campus house, creating a space where COVID-19 could be easily spread due to the close living quarters. On Wednesday, all members living in the house were asked to schedule a time to move their things out of the house. 

On March 16, Gov. Kate Brown ordered Oregon restaurants and bars to stop all on-site dining and limit sales to takeout and delivery, after advising no more than 10 people to meet in one place to help stop the spread of the virus. There were 76,500 unemployment claims filed during the week of March 15, up from 4,900 claims filed during the week of March 8, according to the Oregon Employment Department. 

According to Patrick O’Connor, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department, there were 18,500 claims of unemployment just on March 17. 

“To put that into context, the largest weekly initial UI claims count during the Great Recession was 20,900 during a week in December 2008,” said O’Connor in an email statement. 

O’Connor also noted that most of the layoffs in the first quarter of the year were from sit-down restaurants, bars, gyms, hotels and dental offices. 

Pre-paid dues are among the many payments or fees that are up in the air due to COVID-19. But, according to Nicole Hindes, the director at the Human Services Resource Center, mass layoffs are common and can happen for reasons other than a national pandemic, including supervisor changes, broader changes to the economy or budget restraints and cuts, meaning that some resources are already available. 

So, as far as advice for OSU students who are losing their jobs, “first, I’d tell a student in this case to get some emotional support where they can – reach out to Counseling & Psychological Services, friends, family, etc… this is a hard experience to go through and it’s normal to be scared and overwhelmed about what losing a job means,” said Hindes in an email statement. 

The second step would be to see what resources are offered as an undergraduate student in Oregon. Supplementing lost cash from employment can be found in food benefit programs like SNAP, which provides students with $200 for groceries, and can be accessed in states outside of Oregon. Hindes also recommended students increase loan amounts, look for new jobs at essential establishments like grocery stores, and take advantage of textbook course reserves to reduce expenses. 

“No one asked for this situation and it’s going to be challenging for everyone – and especially for already marginalized communities,” Hindes said via email. “It’s hard for everyone to think about sheltering in place and spending so much time in our living spaces – but this will also end at some point. I want to encourage students to continue to make progress on their degrees as best they can [and] to be learning new skills.”

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