Filing for unemployment in recent months has been a challenge for those seeking benefits due to overwhelming job losses during the pandemic. (Photo Credit: Mr Doomits via Adobe Stock)
Trey Motley

The car-door-open bell chimed as Trey Motley answered a call from a qnotes reporter.

“I’m sorry. I’m out Door Dashing so you’ll hear me confirming and everything,” he explained apologetically.

Delivering food is not how Motley, 30, planned to spend this spring. He was supposed to be still in the honeymoon phase of starting a new job as a front office manager for a Charlotte hotel. Motley had only been in his new gig since November, but was laid off in March when the hotel reduced staff after businesses dropped dramatically as a result of COVID-19.

Motley is not alone.

According to a research brief released by the Human Rights Campaign and PSB Research, 30 percent of LGBTQ respondents had their work hours reduced, compared to 22 percent of the general population.

Data collected from 4,000 participants by the Human Rights Campaign in partnership with PSB Research

• 16 percent of LGBTQ people are unemployed, compared to 10 percent of the general population in this sample. 13 percent of LGBTQ people of color are unemployed.
• 17 percent of LGBTQ people became unemployed due to COVID-19, compared to 13 percent of the general population.
• 22 percent of LGBTQ people of color became unemployed due to COVID-19, compared to 14 percent of white LGBTQ people.

Chad Turner, Charlotte LGBT Chamber president, said many people in the LGBTQ community work in the service and entertainment industries. Many of those businesses will not re-open, Turner said. These individuals work in nail salons, barber shops and other direct-contact businesses. The entertainment industry includes theaters, playhouses and concert venues. Their employees are heavily impacted, Turner said. In fact, the 73-year-old Manor Theater will not re-open after the quarantine ends.

“These individuals are still waiting for unemployment. With that unemployment factor, and the fact that there’s no cash coming in, these individuals are just basically left to fend for themselves without any type of assistance,” Turner said.

Motley is one of the lucky ones. He is drawing the maximum benefits from the state’s unemployment benefits ($350 per week) as well as federal assistance ($600 per week), but the federal money is scheduled to end in late July. He says the state maximum of $350 isn’t enough.

According to the HRC/PSB brief, 20 percent of LGBTQ people say their personal finances are “much worse off” than they were a year ago, compared to only 11 percent of the general population, and they are twice as likely as the general population to think their finances will be much worse off a year from now.

For now, Motley is delivering for Door Dash to make extra cash and save as much as he can. He wants to be prepared if he does not return to work in July and the federal assistance ends. He says his company promised to rehire him, but he is worried.

He’s not alone.

Chris Alderman

Chris Alderman, 34, is not fortunate enough to receive the maximum state unemployment assistance. The state determined that he was only eligible to receive $44 per week after he was laid off from his job as a server at Dressler’s restaurant. He is receiving the federal assistance of $600 per week, and he is thankful, but he too is worried about what happens when that ends.

“It’s very disturbing,” he said.

Alderman said he has been keeping a log of his calls to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Division of Employment Security. For more than two months, he has called every day, three times a day and with no luck. If he gets through, the calls are usually disconnected before he talks to anyone.

“They’re a government agency. They should be figuring out by now how to handle this,” he said.

Lockhart Taylor, assistant secretary for the North Carolina Department of Commerce Division of Employment Security, testified before a state senate committee about the challenges facing his department and how they are addressing them. According to Taylor, the department took in more unemployment claims in 64 days this year than the entire 2009 Great Recession.

“Our surge has been 5,000 percent, and we are working nights, weekends, and holidays to process and pay benefits,” his statement read.

He said the department focused on three areas to handle the surge: upgrading systems, strengthening the department’s workforce and improving processes.

That should be welcome news, but as of press time Alderman still had not gotten his unemployment claim dealt with. Gov. Roy Cooper shifted the state into Phase 2 of lessening social distancing, re-opening dine-in restaurant service, but Alderman said he still does not know when he will return to work.

When he is recalled, he does not know if he will make enough money to make it worth it. He averaged $30-$40 an hour with tips as a server. Right now, restaurants face reduced capacity by 50 percent, and a nervous public.

“We know restaurants aren’t going to open like nothing ever happened,” he said.

If all goes well, restaurants will be able to seat at full capacity in July, but like any other business, it does not mean customers will rush in to fill those seats.