With the U.S. economy nearing the end of a major shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nationwide unemployment rate is nearly 15 percent — a historic number that dwarfs the peak of the Great Recession of 2008-09 and draws comparisons to the Great Depression in the 1930s.
More than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance in the past two months.
The economic pause has had a major impact in the Five Towns, with many residents feeling the gut punch of being laid off or furloughed from a job, or having to close a business not considered essential.
Though large swaths of the country, including most of New York state, have begun to reopen, the metropolitan area, including New York City and Long Island, still has not met the reopening criteria mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Inwood resident Ilyassha Shivers was one of 102 people the Lawrence School District laid off on April 15. Five others were furloughed. Shivers, a part-time cleaner in the district, was also furloughed from his job as an aide at the Hebrew Academy of Special Children in Woodmere.
A furlough is defined as a temporary layoff, and employees who are furloughed are typically called back to work.
At HASC, Shivers, a married father of three children, worked in a class with non-verbal children that said, helping to feed them and helping them develop daily living skills. He also worked with the classroom teacher and a therapist to help the children meet the goals of their individualized educational programs.
He picked up the part-time cleaning job in Lawrence schools in January, and cleaned classrooms, emptied trash, disinfected restrooms and mopped school hallways.
“Before the virus I was gainfully employed, working two jobs,” Shivers said. “The pandemic has not only impacted my present, but also my future. I was able to collect unemployment, and I’m currently looking for employment and updating my resume. I’m pretty sure that I will be returning when things return to normal,” he said of the job at HASC.
Mark Getman, who is a captain in the New York Guard and a rabbi, had two jobs before the pandemic. His primary source of income was as a field investigator for a large government contractor he did not identify.
He was one of 30 investigators that were furloughed on May 2, but he has since been recalled, and returned to work on Monday.
Getman also served as rabbi for Temple Emanu-El of Canarsie.
Through the New York Guard he was given a weeklong assignment earlier this month in Syracuse as a director of public affairs for Joint Task Force Ontario, documenting the work being done by the New York Naval Militia, another component of the state militia, as it prepared equipment for future missions and possible flood mitigation. The paid assignment was classified as “state-active duty.”
“Been recalled from furlough, selected to work on new training material and to go through new online training modules,” Getman posted on Facebook, adding that Temple Emanu-El closed in mid-March, and had no immediate plans to reopen. Getman, the married father of a 7-year-old daughter, is also holding online services on Facebook that are open to anyone.
Across the Five Towns, the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC’s Sustenance Hope Opportunities Place has helped feed many in need amid the pandemic, and has seen 150 new clients — an increase of nearly 40 percent — since the crisis began, according to social worker Dalia Abott, who oversees community support services at the SHOP.
“While some have been furloughed, many have been laid off and have been unable to collect unemployment despite having applied,” Abott said. “We’re also seeing a significant number of people that are either too frail or afraid to shop for food. Also of concern is the high number of young families we’re seeing where one or both parents are ill and or quarantined.”
The SHOP includes the Rina Shkolnik Kosher Food Pantry, clothes for all seasons, and an office area where clients can get help with needed services.
Abott said that the SHOP has been “fully operational” during the pandemic, though with a smaller staff. Meals are either picked up or delivered. Clients are also being helped remotely.
“We are all very hopeful that as the economy begins to open up, jobs will return,” Abott said. “Either way, we will continue to support our community as we have for the past 40 years.”
To contact the Gural JCC SHOP, call (516) 234-6020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.