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The hourly worker’s guide to surviving coronavirus

Coronavirus is wrecking the US economy right now. Officials have called for quarantine and self-isolation, leading many businesses across the US to close their doors. And without customers, these businesses have been forced to lay off a lot of hourly workers. 

With bars, restaurants, schools and other public areas shutting down for the foreseeable future, some hourly workers have no source of income. 

If you’re feeling the squeeze financially, you aren’t alone. Thousands of hourly workers across the US are applying for unemployment benefits to get them through this hard time. 

While many states are suspending evictions for the next 30-60 days, you’ve still got bills to pay. Use this guide as your plan for surviving the here and now. We’ll show you how to file for unemployment, where to look for work and how to make your dollars go further during these uncertain times. We’re all in this together!

How to file for unemployment

Did your boss lay you off, cut your hours or furlough you because of coronavirus? This cost-cutting measure might buy your employer some time, but you’ve got bills to pay. 

It’s not fun, but unemployment insurance is what you need right now. These benefits won’t equal more than what you earned at your job, but they can give you some much-needed support while you’re strapped for cash and looking for work. 

Unemployment benefits are designed to keep you afloat, and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you’ve been paying into the unemployment system this whole time. Don’t go into debt, go hungry or lose your home. Get the money you’ve put into the system when you need it—file for unemployment in your state. 

You probably qualify for unemployment insurance benefits if you’ve lost your job because of the pandemic. (If you quit because your boss is a jerk, or you were fired for cursing at a customer, you likely won’t qualify for benefits. Sorry.)

How it works

Unemployment insurance gives you cash payments for a set period of time. These range from 12 - 36 weeks, depending on your state and personal situation. Generally, unemployment benefits equal half of your earnings from your job, up to a maximum amount that’s different for each state. 

Fortunately, most states are loosening their unemployment rules right now because of coronavirus. Waiting periods, in-person appointments and other strict rules are going out the window because of the pandemic. 

You won’t get rich collecting unemployment, but it will give you some much-needed breathing room in these scary times. 

Unemployment eligibility requirements

Unemployment eligibility is different from state to state. You’ll need to check the rules with your state's Department of Labor, but if you fall into any of these categories, you likely qualify for unemployment:

  • You were an employee, not a contractor or self-employed worker 

  • You were laid off by your employer 

  • Your hours were cut by your employer

  • You have coronavirus 

  • You’re caring for a family member who has coronavirus 

  • You’re in a government-mandated quarantine 

How to file

Your state unemployment office is going to need a lot of info to submit your application. Save yourself from frantically digging for this information by preparing it ahead of time. Again, the information you’ll need will differ by state, but generally speaking, you’ll need your: 

  • Social security number

  • 18 months of work history, including the employers’ names, addresses and phone numbers (this should include the dates you worked there and how much you earned at each job—check your pay stubs or tax documents from last year to get these numbers if you aren't sure)

  • State-approved ID, like a driver’s license 

  • Current address and phone number 

  • Bank information, if you want your benefits deposited into your bank account 

Once you’ve wrangled your information, it’s time to file!

Online filing is the most convenient (and safe) way to file your unemployment claim during the coronavirus crisis. However, keep in mind that thousands of people are in the same boat as you. The state unemployment site may be slow or broken because of the number of unemployment insurance claims. If you can’t get on the website, try a different time of day, like early in the morning or in the evening.

Follow this process to get your claim filed ASAP:

  1. File as soon as you get laid off. If you know you’re going to be laid off ahead of time, you generally aren’t allowed to file yet. But as soon as you’re out of work, apply for unemployment insurance benefits. The day you file is your “effective date,” which means you’re eligible to get benefits starting today. This is why it’s so critical to file ASAP: you can miss out on essential benefits if you wait a few days.

  2. Visit your state’s unemployment website and follow their directions to file a claim.  

  3. Once you file, it can take 2-3 weeks to process the claim. States are getting a backlog of submissions right now because of coronavirus, so you’ll need to be patient. Fortunately, if your application is approved, you should get paid for the time you spent waiting on the application. 

  4. The state office will inform you if your application has been approved or denied. If it’s denied, you’re allowed to file an appeal. Fortunately, you stand a good chance of being approved if you were laid off because of the coronavirus. 

Keeping your benefits active

Congrats on getting your benefits! The hardest part is over. However, you’ve got to stay vigilant. Many states require you to reapply for unemployment every 1 - 2 weeks. 

Yes, this is a pain, but it’s essential to keep your benefits active. If you forget to file one week, your benefits will lapse. You want to avoid that from happening, so set an alarm on your phone to reapply whenever your state requires it. 

Also, keep your online password, user ID and PIN somewhere handy. Save it both to your computer and in a hard copy so you always have your login. 

Getting your unemployment insurance benefits

Under normal circumstances, you would have to wait a week to get your unemployment benefits. However, most states are waiving waiting periods because of coronavirus. Depending on your state and your personal preferences, you’ll receive your benefit payments via:

  • A mailed check

  • Direct deposit

  • A prepaid debit card

It can take 2-3 weeks after filing to receive your first check. 

And remember, unemployment income counts as income. As weird as it sounds, Uncle Sam gets a cut of your unemployment insurance benefits. Save 10% of your unemployment income for taxes. Some states will withhold the taxes for you, but if your state doesn’t offer this, set aside 10% so you aren’t blindsided when it’s time to file next year.

Where to find work during the pandemic

Now, just because you’re collecting unemployment doesn’t mean you have to stay unemployed. While many businesses are closing their doors, plenty are looking for more hourly employees. 

Grocery stores, delivery companies and more are in desperate need of hourly workers to fill the demand. Plus, since you’d be working during a pandemic, many businesses offer generous hourly rates in addition to overtime pay. 

If you need a new job, check out these five industries for your search: 

1. Grocery stores

People are panic-buying and grocery stores simply can’t keep up with the demand. They’re in desperate need of:

Plus, grocery stores are considered an essential business, which means they’ll stay open throughout the pandemic. Many grocery chains have increased their hourly wages to attract workers. If you want to earn over minimum wage, plus overtime, grocery stores are for you. 

2. Delivery

Got a reliable car? You can work flexible hours as a delivery driver for Amazon, Grubhub and even grocery stores. As more people self-isolate, they rely on delivery drivers to bring essentials to their homes. Jam out to some good music, drive through the city and help people out while getting paid for it.

3. Remote hourly work

If you need to stay at home with your kids, or if you belong to a vulnerable population, you can still make a living from the comfort of your home. A tremendous number of offices are now working remotely. 

What jobs can you do remotely? There’s a huge demand right now for:

  • Content creators, like writers and graphic designers 

  • Tutors for school-aged kids

  • Virtual assistants 

  • Project managers 

You get the idea. Score a job working remotely while you self-isolate. 

4. Cleaning crews

Coronavirus means there’s an increased need for hygiene. Janitors and cleaning staff are critical to preventing the spread of the virus. If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, join a commercial cleaning crew to fight the virus while bulking up your bank account. 

5. Census workers

Yes, the 2020 US Census is still happening in spite of the coronavirus. The US Census needs workers to go door to door and ensure everyone has completed the census. As long as you stay six feet away from people, this is a great temporary job to get you through tough times. 

Not sure what gigs are available in your area? Find jobs that are in high demand right now on Snagajob. 

How to stretch your dollars during coronavirus

Whether you’re unemployed right now or not, everyone is feeling the financial pinch from coronavirus. Here’s how hourly workers can make their dollars go farther during the pandemic. 

1. Food

If you’ve filed for unemployment, it could take 2-3 weeks to get a check in your hand. That’s two weeks of not getting any money in your bank account. How are you going to stay fed? 

If you’re really hurting, there’s no shame in asking for SNAP benefits or applying to a program like WIC (for women, infants and children only). If you don’t quite qualify for these programs, try checking out:

  • Local food pantries 

  • Religious organizations (many churches have a no-questions-asked pantry for people going through hard times)

  • Local farms—some farmers will trade labor for a box of produce 

Still need more in your pantry? Put out a call for help. and Facebook can quickly connect you with folks who likely have surplus of food. It’s hard times out there, and you’d be surprised how many people will help if you ask for it. 

There's nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Just remember to pay it forward once you're back on your feet.

2. Childcare

With schools and daycares shutting down, working parents have little choice but to balance full-time parenting with full-time jobs (or the stress of unemployment).

If you have a child, you might have to get creative with childcare as you balance working or looking for work during the pandemic. Consider:

  • Asking relatives to babysit while you’re at work. However, you shouldn’t ask elderly or at-risk relatives for help because it could increase their exposure to coronavirus. 

  • Trading with your friends: Do you work a day shift while your friend works a night shift? See if you can alternate childcare during work hours.

  • Hiring a babysitter: This is a last-ditch option for many, since babysitters don’t come cheap. However, if you qualify for government assistance for childcare, you can put those funds toward a babysitter. For older children, you can try a “digital” babysitter that Facetimes with them and helps with homework. 

3. Bills

Coronavirus doesn’t care that you’ve got bills to pay. If you’ve managed to find work, that’s great! But if you’re still unemployed and looking for work, try a few of these tips to survive the onslaught of overdue bills. 

  • See if you qualify for relief: Many states are passing student loan and eviction protection for 30-60 days because of coronavirus. 

  • Cut the nonessentials: You’re probably not living high on the hog anyway, but it can’t hurt to see which bills you can cut. For example, if you have multiple streaming subscriptions, stick to your favorite (or the cheapest one). 

  • Be honest: If you know you can’t pay your rent, mortgage or car payment, let your lender know. A lot of folks can’t pay their bills because of coronavirus. Banks have a reputation for being heartless, but they’re demonstrating a lot of leniency during this pandemic. Call your lender to let them know what’s going on. More often than not, they’ll work with you to make a game plan. 

There’s a lot of help available to you if you know where to find it. Check out which coronavirus relief funds you might qualify for

The bottom line

Coronavirus is a dangerous, new frontier for hourly workers. As the world struggles to get back to normal, it can put you in the financial hotseat for several months. If push comes to shove, use this guide to file for unemployment, apply for work in booming industries and make your money go further. 

Need more help dealing with the pandemic? We feel you. Check out this resource on how to improve your resume, find a new job during coronavirus and how to get more cash in your bank account.

Katy Boyles |
Katy is our Social Media Manager at Snagajob, where she loves talking to hourly workers and employers all day long. Her first hourly job was as a hostess.