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How A Reddit Community Helped A Woman Navigate Unemployment Amid The Pandemic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs during this pandemic. And as they struggle to make ends meet, there's also been another struggle - trying to find accurate information on how to navigate the world of unemployment insurance. Some have turned to the social news website Reddit, specifically a group called r/Unemployment. With strict moderation rules, the subreddit has become a wealth of stories and practical information for those who've lost their jobs. Meaghan Reed had a 20-year career in the hospitality industry. She lost her job in March, and we've reached her in Phoenix. Thanks very much for being with us.

MEAGHAN REED: Hi. How are you?

SIMON: Well, fine, thanks. How are you doing?

REED: I'm hanging in there, surviving.

SIMON: Can you help us understand what life has been like?

REED: You know, it's been pretty chaotic. I had two separate incomes. I was bartending, and I was also consulting for small restaurants. So I was laid off of both of those when the pandemic hit. Initially, unemployment seemed pretty easy. But then all of a sudden, randomly, one day, I was locked out of my account. And as a result of being locked out of my account, basically, DES said they could not help me at all because I couldn't verify my information. Somebody had hacked in and changed all of my information. It was immediately. My benefit stopped. And I'm trying to figure out how to pay my bills. I'm trying to figure out how to pay my landlord. What do I say to everybody? I don't even know because they won't answer me. The Reddit group is really cool because it was - you know, I would just type in what I was going through. And somebody immediately would say, oh, I just went through that. It takes about eight weeks. Or you have to wait for an adjudicator or whatever the process is that they are not telling us on the other end.

SIMON: In your experience over these past few months, what makes this subreddit different from other websites that possess information about unemployment and insurance?

REED: You know, I've been a big forum person for a while now. So when I went looking for something, I was looking for a forum where it was real people who have a variety of experiences. It wasn't all good. It wasn't all bad. It wasn't necessarily any one way. And it definitely doesn't have a political view to it, which was great. You know, like, I mean, everybody once in a while could throw something in there. But it's really nice that it's like an array of people just trying to figure it out.

SIMON: I gather you've heard some pretty harrowing stories too, read some pretty harrowing stories.

REED: There are some really rough ones, yes.

SIMON: Which ones stay in your mind?

REED: It's the kids that really get to me, honestly. It's the family that, you know, are now left to their own devices or worse than that. And, you know, they don't have any support. And they're - all the shelters are full. Here in Phoenix, we had lines around - like, 3 miles' worth of a line for Thanksgiving for the food banks because people were waiting to get food. You know, it's crazy. So when you think about being a young parent with nowhere to go because you've now been evicted from your house because you couldn't pay your bills, because unemployment didn't get their stuff together for you - and they just tell you nothing. They just throw their hands up. And they're like, you just have to wait. And that's our support system. That's who we're supposed to be relying on through this tough time.

SIMON: How does that make you feel that people are told, oh, don't worry, you know, we'll take care of it - there are systems in place - and you try and make those systems work, and you can't get an answer?

REED: It's honestly the most frustrating thing in the world - because that's the whole point of unemployment - was not - it's not a handout. It's something we've earned, or you're entitled to. And so it's supposed to be the lifeline. You know, that's what they said. This is what's going to save you guys. This is what we put there for you. This is why, you know, we're not paying you out monthly. Multiple other countries are just paying out their citizens. You know, like, they just pay them out as a stipend or a stimulus kind of deal every month. And they don't have to do all this unemployment stuff. And this was their answer for us - was unemployment. And then it's literally been more chaos and more heartache than anything. I would've rather not thought I had money coming at all than planned on it.

SIMON: And as you and I speak, Congress hasn't passed a second relief bill. I wonder how you feel about that.

REED: Yeah, you know, we watch it very closely. Honestly, anybody in my circle, we're pretty much on it for a multitude of reasons - one being the stimulus but also the unemployment. And then, you know, we have a lot of - there's students, student loan forgiveness and things that we're trying to figure out how we're going to deal with once they all come back into play. But it's frustrating to think about the people that are not affected. These people are not affected by this pandemic in the way that we are. And they're the ones making those calls. You know, like, they're debating it. And they're taking months and months to do it. And they're, you know, dragging us all through this to, like, hurry up and wait kind of phase where we're all, like, saying to all of our bill collectors and all of our needs that it'll be there. They're going to debate. They're going to get it. They're going to get this week. It's next week. It'll be before the election. And then nothing happens. So you're kind of just taking the bounce. And the people that are making the decisions are the ones that are not suffering.

SIMON: Meaghan Reed is a hospitality worker in Arizona. Thanks so much for being with us.

REED: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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