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Record Number Of Unemployment Claims Filed As San Diegans Struggle To Make Ends Meet

A closed sign outside of Gossip Grill in Hillcrest on April 2, 2020. The eate...

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: A closed sign outside of Gossip Grill in Hillcrest on April 2, 2020. The eatery, like many others, are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A record 6.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the country. At least 20,000 San Diegans were laid off in March, according to data from the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

Most of the layoffs in San Diego have been in the hospitality and food industry.

"It’s happening to real people. I was a hard-working audio engineer," Nowell Helms said, an IATSE Local 122 member who works as an audio engineer covering events at the San Diego Convention Center.

Photo credit: Matt Hoffman/Zoom

Nowell Helms (left) and Deon Winters (right) talk about their unemployment experiences via Zoom video chat, April 4, 2020.

"At this point, I’ve got no prospects of work coming back. The convention center is now a homeless shelter," Helms said via video chat Thursday.

A husband and father of two, Helms is the main earner in his family. Because of the nature of his work he has been on unemployment in the past but has never seen anything like this.

"I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen come May and June," Helms said.

Reported by Matt Hoffman , Video by Andi Dukleth

RELATED: Emergency Food Drive-Thru Looks To Relieve Pressure From Local Food Distribution Sites

In the meantime, Helms is volunteering at local food banks, which has also helped fill his family’s pantry.

"I’ve gone to the stadium two Saturdays in a row," Helms said. The San Diego Food Bank is using SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley and other locations as an emergency food distribution sites on the weekends.

"Even though I was volunteering, I definitely brought food home and that has helped out quite a bit," Helms said.

He is also trying to supplement his income by cleaning pools, but, "(The way) unemployment works, for every dollar you earn they remove a dollar from your benefit," Helms said.

And just because you apply for unemployment, does not mean you get it. Deon Winters is an example.

"I haven’t been with my employer long enough to even receive unemployment," Winters said.

The 31-year-old was hired as a cook at Gossip Grill in Hillcrest just a few months ago, after graduating from culinary school last year. Now he finds himself jobless and unable to qualify for unemployment.

"It’s stressful," Winters said. "I live paycheck to paycheck, so all of that is about to run out."

Winters said Gossip Grill has helped him to find odd jobs and given him food, but he cannot find government support. He is from San Diego and is worried about restaurant workers who do not have family here to lean on.

"Literally a lot of us are affected by this," Winters said. "I just hope that all of us will be able to go back to work real, real soon. That everything will be back to somewhat normal and if not unemployment whatever they have, the stimulus package whatever they keep saying they're going to give, they need to do it sooner than when they're saying they're going to do it because if they don't it's going to be a lot of trouble out here and that’s what I’m afraid of."

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

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Photo of Matt Hoffman

Matt Hoffman
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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