Local students, families begin the road back from pandemic unemployment

A help wanted sign hangs outside a local Plainfield restaurant. “The loss of my dad’s job made the family realize how dependent we are upon his living wage. He was out of work for a couple months,” junior Yazmin Santillian said. Photo by Saba Ahmed.

The pandemic has devastated Americans’ lives in more ways than one, worsening mental health, contributing to social isolation, and challenging students with the struggles of remote learning. Those were effects of the pandemic nationwide, and the Oswego community was not immune to them.

According to a report published by CNN, unemployment claims skyrocketed to a peak of 23 million in the spring of 2020, right as the nation went into lockdown. Today, that rate remains at 2.7 million, according to the same report.

In a poll of approximately 500 students, 27.2% said that someone in their family endured unemployment or other financial issues due to the pandemic. This means that more than 1 in 4 students were financially impacted by COVID-19 in some way.

For junior Mel Rodriguez Mejorado, the pandemic did not just bring her the struggles of navigating through online classes and not being able to meet her friends, but it also presented the financial hardship that she and her family went through as well. Her dad owns a local granite business and her sister works at a granite company that is her family’s main source of income.

“It was difficult because no one wanted to get their floors done when there is a pandemic going on, so we were just going off the money my dad got really from plowing snow, because he plows snow in the winter. But it didn’t even snow that much over [that] winter,” Rodriguez Mejorado added. 

Additionally, according to Rodriguez Mejorado, she and her family were not able to make as much money as usual because of  her father’s business being slow.

“It was very hard for me to just sit at home while having those financial issues,” Samuel, Mel’s father added. “We still had money to have food and water and pay the bills, but we did need to use it sparingly.”

In times such as these, some families would even feel the pressure to ask for necessities, let alone luxuries.

“It was kind of difficult because I really felt like I couldn’t ask for anything, like food or clothes,” Rodriguez Mejorado said. “I was just really stressed out.”

Junior Mayah Kaushal’s father — a professor at Roosevelt University — lost his position, impacting the home as well. 

“My father was one of the 10 people laid off and given a two-week notice to leave,” Kaushal added. ”I felt upset as there was nothing I could do.”

Senior Ana Clarke’s dad runs his own business which gets a lot of its stock from China, while her mom is a Spanish teacher at East.

“It was very hard for me to just sit at home while having those financial issues. We still had money to have food and water and pay the bills, but we did need to use it sparingly.”

Oswegoland father Samuel Rodriguez

“A lot of it was that people were buying out so much stock that by the time they went to ship it, they were out of stock, and it really just caused a [big] debt,” Clarke said. 

But not everyone was affected by the lack of employment that the pandemic brought for many. Some, like freshman Kayle Ford, indicated that her dad, who designs online courses, experienced an overload of work due to the pandemic.

“It was stressful for us because my dad … works later, working until six [in the evening]. It was rough. And then he was working late at night,” Ford said. “I was pretty upset because I couldn’t spend as much time with my dad.”

According to school counselor Ryan Duffy, a number of seniors will grapple with how to deal with the possibility of going to college next fall amidst their family’s financial situations.

“I am having more students than I typically see, that are either going to take a year to organize their plans and maybe not go directly to college to pay that tuition money cause they know it’s a lot, or they’re making the decision to stay closer to home … or attend a two-year junior college due to those financial restraints,” Duffy said.

Due to the fact that the pandemic is technically not over, some of the feelings American families will experience may become a “new normal” for them. Still, some light may shine even for those who traveled the rather dark tunnel of lockdown and the pandemic.

For Kaushal, that meant having more time with her family.

“Even though my father was really stressed, he ended up spending more time with me and my sister,” Kaushal added. “We would watch movies together and he bought us small gifts once in a while.”

But the pandemic did not entirely take away from students and their families. In some ways, the pandemic also tended to give something back.

“What we took away from it was just how much we rely on money everyday,” Samuel Rodriguez added. “Being at home just waiting it out did bring my family closer, but it had many negative effects on us. What I would say to others is to not be afraid to ask for help and to stay hopeful. I’m now working the same hours as I did before COVID and being out has helped me get more productive.”

Saba Ahmed is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl. This feature was co-written Kayli Link.

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