American Workers Confront Range Of Challenges During The Coronavirus Pandemic

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Sabrina Lee (left) and Daniella Humphreys (right). (Courtesy)
Sabrina Lee (left) and Daniella Humphreys (right). (Courtesy)

The coronavirus pandemic has brought big changes in how Americans work.

Some are fortunate to work from home, while others, including health care workers and delivery drivers, still have to go out in public.

Sabrina Lee is working through the crisis doing deliveries for DoorDash, UberEats, Postmates and others. She says she wears a face mask and gloves when she can find them but thinks delivery companies “could be doing more” to protect their workers.

“DoorDash just started sending some Dashers 2-ounce hand sanitizers,” Lee says. “They have some gloves that rip apart but they’re sending those out for free. And they’re sending us face masks, but the sides break.”

Delivery drivers put themselves at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus, and Lee says she would like to see bigger tips from customers since her base pay is still so low. Overall income for gig economy workers has dropped, but food and grocery delivery workers are seeing a slight uptick due to higher demand.

“The base pay is still $2 to $3. We’re not getting paid what we should be getting paid,” she says. “We’re out here doing something that [people] don’t want to do, which is go out in public, pick up food, be around restaurants, open the doors, breathe all of this air. We’re out on the frontlines also, just like these doctors and nurses.”

Millions of Americans have also lost their jobs. One of those people is Daniella Humphreys, a clinical research nurse in Austin, Texas, who was recently laid off. She says she’s been constantly calling the number for the Texas Workforce Commission, which administers unemployment benefits for the state — but she still hasn’t been able to file.

“I really didn’t think it was going to be this hard,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a busy signal, sometimes I’ll get all the way through the prompts, and then once it transfers you, it will say that they apologize due to the overwhelming response nobody can take your call.”

Humphreys says she has been granted a one-month delay in many of her bills and her mortgage lender has given her a three-month delay.

“But the lump sum is due at the end of the three months, which if I have no income, there’s no way for me to pay,” she says.

Both women are also supporting children at home.

Humphreys, a single mother who is caring for her son and niece, says she is trying to save money by limiting the use of air conditioning, even though the temperatures in Austin have been in the mid-90s.

She’s also trying to hold off on grocery shopping.

“I started going through my freezer, we are eating everything that’s in the freezer before I have to buy groceries again,” she says. “I’m trying to go through all the canned foods.”

She will lose her health insurance next month, so her son’s father will put her son on his insurance. But for herself, things are uncertain. A survivor of thyroid cancer, Humphreys says she “can’t be without medication.”

“What I tried to do was refill all of my medications for 90 days for now,” she says. “I at least have that for now.”

Lee says she is barely getting by. She has three children and her husband was recently laid off from his job as a trucker. She says he’s receiving unemployment benefits, but combined with her income, that’s “barely” enough to support everyone.

“The lights, the gas, since my child is out of school, I gotta keep the entertainment on the television, all of that adds up ... food, so that’s why I have to be out 12 hours a day, every day,” she says. “I’m gonna work as much as I can until I can’t.”

Jill Ryan produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Ryan and Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on April 10, 2020.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.


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Samantha Raphelson Associate Producer, Here & Now
Samantha Raphelson is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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