Pandemic shutdowns especially hard for ‘gig’ workers, with limited unemployment benefits

Freelance and self-employed workers have struggled to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

News 12 Staff

Sep 29, 2021, 11:46 PM

Updated 927 days ago

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Freelance and self-employed workers have struggled to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among those who were hit the hardest were nightlife and entertainment workers who saw their businesses evaporate amid shutdowns and curfews. Adding to the stress – their unemployment benefits paid far less than most others.
DJ Brendan O’Neill is normally a happy-go-lucky guy.
“I mean, I’m a DJ. I have to be social,” he says.
O’Neill is still trying to recover from a pandemic that shut down his business and the jobs of entertainment and nightlife workers nationwide for months.
“I knew people who lost everything. They had to move back either home, some ended up on the street. A couple of them even committed suicide because of it. It was a very, very dark, dark, dark time period for entertainment. Very dark,” O’Neill says.
To add insult to injury, O’Neill says that the state Department of Labor classified him as a gig worker, meaning he received just $250 in weekly unemployment benefits, plus a $600 weekly benefit from the federal government. In pre-pandemic times, he was making as much as a few thousand dollars per weekend.
A spokesperson for the labor department says in a statement, "Gig workers are not eligible for traditional state unemployment benefits, since they are self-employed and do not pay into the Unemployment Trust Fund…Benefits for gig workers were calculated based on net income, not gross income, per federal law."
O’Neill says that he was under contract at four different clubs when the pandemic hit. The Department of Labor says that self-employed people can apply for an adjustment.
But the damage to O’Neill’s life was almost permanent. He says that in a dark period of time, he tried to take his life.
O’Neill is now getting help and his career of 13 years is rebounding now that clubs are back open.
"Memorial Day was really the first weekend we were just allowed to converge and be together again and it was like beautiful, a beautiful sight to see,” he says. "And anybody who has negative thoughts about anything, you're not alone. You can always have someone to talk to, and I'm thankful to be here and thankful to be alive."
Anyone who may be in crisis is urged to call the 24-hour National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.


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