After Picking Up Work Here and There, No Unemployment Check

The difficulties facing these workers have multiplied during the pandemic.

The current political fight over whether to extend a $600 weekly jobless benefit supplement — which expires at the end of this month — overlooks the total financial toll that the pandemic has taken on households, some economists contend.

“What I think is lacking from the conversation about unemployment now is that you may not have lost your main job, but you have lost your secondary job and you can’t file an unemployment claim for it,” Ms. Rho said. “You’re suffering financially, but there’s no other way of making that up.”

Republicans in Congress have opposed extending the supplement because that extra money meant most recipients were getting more than they would have earned while working their regular job.

Several economists, though, have argued that the payments have kept the economy functioning by giving consumers money to spend. In most states, regular state benefits replace less than half of lost wages, and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefit is half of that average state benefit. What’s more, there are at least 20 million people unemployed but only five million job openings.

Nick Pennell had just completed an eight-month contract as a color designer for footwear at Nike in Portland, Ore., on March 13. “That was the Friday when all hell broke loose,” because of surging coronavirus cases, Mr. Pennell said. On the following Monday, he was laid off from the part-time, minimum-wage pizzeria job that he used to supplement his income.

He filed for unemployment benefits for his pizzeria job, but couldn’t put in a claim for the much-better-paid stint at Nike since that had officially ended the day the state shut down. He applied under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and waited three months for his first check. It came in June, after the state’s National Guard was deployed to the employment department to help clear the backlog.

With help from his family and a small disability benefit from his time in the military, Mr. Pennell, 31, managed to pay his bills while he waited. “I kept doing job searches for freelance design work — nothing was working there,” he said. He is now working part time at the pizzeria again, cooking and delivering food.