Dispatches from a Pandemic: ‘I’m terrified of losing everything I’ve worked for.’ This woman found a new job, bought a car, and was furloughed due to coronavirus

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When Ashleigh Hanks moved to Clarksville, Tenn. in December, she pictured a window of opportunity and stability that she so desperately craved. No longer would she be tending to crops in rural Washington and scrambling to find work throughout the winter.

Hanks, 24, hoped that she would finally get the chance to achieve her childhood dream of becoming a lawyer. That dream inched closer to becoming a reality when she enrolled in online classes at a community college after her parents and her then 13-month-old niece nearly died after getting hit by a drunk driver nearly seven years ago.

Her family is grieving the loss of her beloved great uncle, Fred, 75, who passed away two weeks ago due to complications from the new coronavirus.

“Seeing the laws and how the prosecutors can only do so much made me really want to be able to fight for justice for my parents and my niece,” she said. Though her mom has physically recovered from the crash, emotionally she is still recovering and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Her mom’s emotional support dog, Sherman Gepherd, helps her cope with some of the pain.

Now her family is grieving the loss of Hanks’ beloved great uncle, Fred, 75, who passed away two weeks ago due to complications from the new coronavirus. (Hanks’ family asked that his last name not be used out of respect for their privacy.)

“It took him five days to pass away from when he left to go to the hospital.”

“It was a big shock, it felt like it was so quick,” Hanks said of the passing of her great uncle who was a two-time cancer survivor. “My aunt didn’t know that was the last time she’d see him because she was in quarantine at home and had no way of contacting him.”

“It’s so hard to see people not taking it seriously and especially hearing people say they’re healthy and don’t need to worry about it.”

A month prior to her uncle’s passing, Hanks was laid off from her job as a call-center operator near Clarksville, where she earned $11 an hour. Even with that income, she struggled to afford the used car she purchased in mid-March. But she was able to quickly secure a new job as an assistant manager of a soon to be opened axe-throwing bar where she’d be earning $15 an hour.

Like millions of Americans, she was furloughed.

Now she’s struggling to afford her car and even started a GoFundMe campaign. She also racked up $1,500 in medical debt from several surgeries she has had for a slipped disc.

MarketWatch spoke with Hanks about her employment situation:

MarketWatch: How long were you at your previous job?

Ashleigh Hanks: I used to work in a call center, and was actually fired from that job in the first week of March. It’s the only job I’ve ever been fired from and it was through no fault of my own. A coworker and I were just scapegoats to cover up their mismanagement. I just interviewed for this new job a week before non-essential businesses were closed down. I contacted the owner and I’m listed as hired, though I’ve been unable to start work yet.

I have been working for five months to pay off medical debts, get myself set up with a good job.

MW: Are you the breadwinner in your household?

AH: I support myself. Since I’ve moved across the country for my previous job I have been living with my grandmother and paying off debts, getting a car, and trying to get back on my own.

MW: How did you find out you were furloughed from your new job?

AH: We corresponded over Facebook Messenger FB, +1.69% . I found out about the job originally through an ad on Facebook.

MW: Have you ever been laid off before?

AH: I spent five years doing seasonal work in agriculture, so I’m used to having notice as to when the season will end and when I will need to start job hunting. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s a whole new beast.

MW: Do you expect to be able to go back to the job you were hired for when the pandemic is over?

AH: Oh yes, absolutely. He sounded very hopeful and positive that we will be back on track once we have more of an idea of a time-frame.

MW: What was your impression of the new role when you were interviewed?

AH: When I went in for my interview I met the owner and the operator of another branch, and everybody was very kind, laid back, fun. I cannot wait to start working there.

MW: What are you going to do now?

AH: You know, I’m in a very unique situation. My previous job didn’t end because of COVID-19, but my job search and subsequent new job was postponed because of COVID-19. Because of the situation I am in, it’s hard to feel positive.

I have no financial buffer. All I had in savings has gone towards April’s bills and food for my grandmother and me.

MW: What scares you the most right now?

AH: I’m terrified of failure, I always have been. I’ve been working for five months to pay off medical debts, get myself set up with a good job. Now I’m terrified of losing everything I’ve worked for. I got a new car with a loan a week before losing my job. I can’t have my car repossessed and have more debts added onto my credit. I just can’t fail anymore.

MW: How much of a financial buffer do you have without a job?

AH: I have no financial buffer. All I had in savings has gone towards April’s bills and food for my grandmother and me.

MW: Have you applied for unemployment benefits? If so, what is the status of your application?

AH: Yes, I have. My unemployment application has been pending for three weeks now. I’m afraid that losing my last job for reasons other than COVID-19 will leave me with a declined application.

MW: What kinds of jobs would you be willing to take? Unwilling?

AH: I have severe asthma, and I, like my father, am trying to obtain a verbal stay home recommendation from my doctor to help push along my unemployment claim. Becoming infected with this virus would prove deadly to me and my grandmother who lives with me and also has asthma.

MW: What makes you hopeful now?

AH: My hope is in every day we are alive. I am spiritual, so I do pray constantly that my family survives. My hope lies in being able to see my boyfriend again, being able to go out in public without fear of bringing home a deadly contagion. My hope lies in human resiliency.

(This interview was edited for style and space.)

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