America’s coronavirus lockdown is causing economic pain across the country like nothing this nation has seen since the Great Depression.
In just the past five weeks, more than 26 million have lost their jobs, as US commerce has come to a virtual standstill while people stay home to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
The grim unemployment numbers don’t even include the workers who have seen their hours slashed, salaries cut and sales commissions evaporate.
The damage to job markets worldwide sent the stock market free falling to historic lows — with the Dow Jones industrial average suffering its worst single-day point drop ever last month at the start of the global recession.
But these grim economic numbers aren’t just data points. Every one of them represents a person driven into hardship, a business owner seeing their life’s work ruined and a desperate family wondering how to keep food on the table.
There has been some help, such as the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package and President Trump’s signing of a new bill Friday that will almost double the initial promise of $350 billion in the small-business loan program.
But coast to coast, people are still living in fear of what hardship tomorrow will bring and wondering when America will reopen and what is the plan.
The Post has talked to a group of hard-hit people, here are their stories:
Rose English, 57, owner of a horse riding school and summer camp in Anchorage, Alaska
Normally, English gets a flood of deposit checks from parents signing kids up for her equestrian summer camp every April — but this year she has received none.
English, 57, was forced to close her horse school, Rockin’ B Riding, the same week her husband Robert was laid off from his job in the oil industry.
Now she’s terrified they won’t be able to pay the mortgage.
“We’ve been hit really hard,” she said. “It’s nerve-wracking to think you might lose everything you’ve worked so hard to attain.”
English said she’s lost at least $20,000 since the shutdown, and that number stands to double by this summer.
She says it’s time for businesses in her state to get back in the saddle and reopen.
English cites Alaska’s relatively low death toll of 9 and the fact that her business is open-air with acres of space for social distancing.
“It’s infuriating not to be able to work,” she said. “We are ready to open back up.”
Adrys Romero, 40, owner of a hair salon in Tamarac, Florida
With many essential workers leaving their homes, Romero said she wants her business to be open to help them.
“It’s been difficult not only for us as hairstylists but some people are still working. They need the services,” Romero said.
Romero, who closed the salon on March 12, said that she would prefer to open before she had to turn to government assistance.
“I don’t want them to support me. I just want to be able to produce,” she said.
Romero said she is “close” with her four employees and is more worried about them than her own finances.
“I am worried about them because for some of them that’s their [household’s] only income,” Romero said.
Vanessa Roer, 45, owner of a ranch in Eager, Arizona and zoo in Reston, Virginia
Dozens of school kids would normally be clamoring to spot a scimitar horned oryx, or a giant watusi cattle at R Lazy J Wildlife Ranch but aside from the animals, the Arizona facility is now empty.
Roer and her husband are struggling to manage the ranch along with their larger Roer’s Zoofari, which they own in Virginia.
“We’re in a unique position because all our animals still need to eat and require medical care,” Roer said.
“There really is not a place to send animals so we have to be very creative financially.”
There is enough animal feed for the next couple of months but they’ll have to cough up $100,000 for deferred mortgage payments by July. She’ll give up all her possessions, including her home and car, before allowing any animal to suffer.
She thinks the pandemic restrictions were guided by too much fear and hopes her businesses reopen soon.
“I really feel the total shut down measures are a bit extreme and would like to see the economy open sooner rather than later,” she said.
Keith Walker, 49, a hairstylist and salon owner in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Walker and his partner, Billy, adopted four young kids and moved into a larger and more expensive home a few months ago — only to both lose their jobs in March.
“We are freaking out and panicking because we need to support these kids,” said Walker, 49. “Our biggest fear is losing our house.”
Just as he adjusted to a new life with their 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-old kids, his weekly income of $2,500 plunged to zero while Billy was furloughed from his job selling timeshares.
“We were just starting our life with these kids — and then, boom, March happened,” Walker said.
While he’s dying to get back to work, he said his state’s infection numbers are too high to open the economy right now. “Realistically, I’m not sure we’re ready,” he said.
Olee Stewart, 59, a cook at Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada
Before the coronavirus crisis, Stewart took care of himself and his cognitively disabled wife on an $800-a-week paycheck.
So when restaurants in Sin City were forced to close, he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“I’m the bread winner, so this has been challenging,” he said. “The stakes for us are the mortgage and keeping the lights on.”
Stewart, a member of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, wants to return to work as soon as possible. Still, he said Nevada should leave reopening to the experts.
“We all have bills — but we can’t pay them if we’re not alive,” he said.
Kevin Gritten, 49, owner of barbershop in Waco, Texas
Gritten never anticipated Champions Salon and Barber would ever be completely empty of customers.
“We always said this is a recession-proof industry — but it’s not a virus-proof industry,” Gritten said.
He made the tough decision to close his doors for the safety of his staff and clientele March 17 — a day before the county where he lives ordered non-essential businesses to close.
Since then, he’s been forced to lay off his 22 employees.
“I’ve had every single emotion you could possibly had,” Gritten said, saying at one point he “thought my world was coming to an end.”
Gritten said he’s received enough government money to hopefully tide over his business, but he’s banking on the governor to give the green light next week to reopen.
“If we hadn’t gotten the government assistance, I would be having a totally different kind of conversation,” he said.
David Rutherford, 47, co-owner of a bowling alley in Warner Robins, Georgia
With Georgia’s bowling alleys now allowed tp reopen, the lanes look different with social distancing measures.
“We feel like we can do it in a manner where people can see some normalcy but of course it’s going to be way different,” said Rutherford, who partially reopened Gold Cup Bowling Alley on Friday.
Rutherford said they’re only using every other lane, spacing out reservation times and asking customers to book lanes in advance.
“We will be happy to see some of our usual customers, but we won’t be able to host leagues because there’s no way we can follow social distancing,” he said.
Some have been frustrated with the new measures in place, which also including paying for reservations beforehand.
“Some people don’t agree with it… We are looking for zero interaction that is what people have to realize,” he said.
Lauren Keomans, 28, general manager of a gym in Phoenix, Arizona
Keomans said moving Chuckwalla CrossFit’s classes online last month was “essentially like creating a new business.”
The gym quickly expanded to provide live-streamed workouts through the video platform Zoom for members, who pay $156 a month for unlimited access to their facility.
“We had to go all-in with it,” the manager said. “We’ve had to increase the value of what we offer.”
But Keomans said that marketing the virtual classes to gym-goers has been a hurdle.
“The challenge has been switching everyone’s mindset — you’re helping your members change their view of how they exercise and you’re doing this through a crisis,” she said.
She said they’ve largely been able to retain clients — in part by lending out all of the gym’s equipment — but added, “I think month two will be telling.”
Amanda Reaves, 32, eyelash technician in Charlotte, North Carolina
Reaves, who specializes in applying false eyelashes, is ready to go back to work on day one.
“It’s a little different in how we are able to control our environment. I see one client at one time. I wash my instruments,” said Reaves, who works at iLash Charlotte salon.
Reaves, who saw her last customer on March 25, said her clients have been patient but that hasn’t been the case for some of her colleagues.
“I know I am fortunate to have clients that are very understanding and get the concept that our hands are tied,” she said. “I can’t come to your house because it’s going to put my license at jeopardy.”
She has been able to rely on her husband while out of work but wants to contribute again.
“Car payments are going to eventually have to be paid,” she said.
Laura Valdez, 36, massage therapist in San Antonio, Texas
Valdez is a San Antonio massage therapist who fears she’ll soon burn through her savings account and be swallowed up by mounting debt.
“I’m terrified,” Valdez said. Only medically necessary massages are currently permitted in Texas.
“I don’t know what is going to happen if this goes on any longer,” added Valdez, who was making a $1400 weekly income pre-pandemic.
“To say we are going to go back to normal and just pick up our clientele like nothing—no,” Valdez added. “It’s going to take a while to build up the business again.”
She hopes the state doesn’t rush to ease restrictions because she’s afraid of putting her two-year-old son at risk of catching COVID-19.
“My son is high risk. He has respiratory issues and is severely asthmatic,” she said. “Whatever sacrifice is worth our safety.”
Titi Demissie, a restaurant owner in Atlanta, Georgia
Desta Ethiopian Kitchen was once a bustling eatery that sat 250 patrons but is now struggling to stay open as a take-out joint.
Demissie and her husband opened the restaurant in 2006 and added a second location that may soon close its doors for good.
“It’s a very difficult time,” Demissie said.
Demissie does not feel it’s safe to allow the public back in anytime soon.
“We are just focused on how to protect our staff community and guests,” said Demissie, who will implement new social distancing and sanitizing guidelines.
She is hoping a small business loan will save her beloved restaurants.
“We didn’t know we would even get this relief. It will help provide an income for our workers,” she said.