I don’t know how unemployment works, and I’m sure you don’t, either

More than 16 million Americans have applied for unemployment since mid-March, according to NBC. 

I was one of those Americans.

At 22 years old, I was permanently laid off from a part-time job that I had held for over two years. 

I often complained about my part-time job. My managers never really respected the fact I was a full-time student, and I was often scheduled for shifts when I was unavailable because I was in class. I kept this job for gas money for my half-hour commute to school. I was constantly looking forward to getting a full-time position so I wouldn’t have to work at a thankless retail job any longer.

When the COVID-19 outbreak started to close retail stores, our company sent us an email promising they would protect their employees at all costs, and would do everything in their power to secure our jobs until the outbreak was over.

Five days later, I got a call from the company, along with 35,000 other employees, that we were being laid off with no chance of coming back. I was oddly upset. I felt sad because there was no closure. 

Above all, I felt angry. I was angry that our company put us on a conference call with hundreds of other employees in my district and plainly stated, “Everyone on this call is getting laid off.”

Just like that.

I was confused where to begin. They were talking about filing for unemployment, severance pay-outs, release of claims … all these things I knew nothing about. This wasn’t something we learned about in high school, or even college. People are losing their jobs, and they have no clue what it all means.

Once I finally collected my severance (which was only one week of pay), I filed for unemployment. I was sweating in fear the entire time, afraid I was going to fill something out incorrectly, and that it would result in an angry phone call from the government saying I made an error on my forms – and I wasn’t the only one.

Five of my friends were also laid off from their jobs. We bombarded each other with questions about filing for benefits in our group chat:

“What did you put in for this question?”

“How do I report my wages?”

“When do I claim benefits?”

“Do I qualify for it?”

My Facebook feed is filled with people asking their friends questions, searching for answers they were unable to find on the unemployment site.

None of us were prepared for this. Unemployment sucks. It’s not something anyone plans for. Lots of people had no idea they would be filing for unemployment in their early 20s.

People need help now more than ever to find out if they qualify for benefits. Times haven’t been this tough in a while. People are lost, confused, and need guidance.

When you file your taxes online, there is often a feature where you can reach out to a tax professional if you have questions. I wish Massachusetts offered unemployment professionals at the ready for those who need help applying. A hotline, a chat bot – anything to help us. We are scared, lost, and confused during these unprecedented times. 

The purpose of the government is to help us. While I am beyond appreciative of the financial assistance, I have no idea what I’m doing. We need a more structured system. It doesn’t have to be this difficult to ask for help. 

I hope the government can learn from the COVID-19 crisis that it shouldn’t be such a difficult task for people to file for unemployment. Schools and universities should offer services to help people understand the system so if the time comes, they are prepared, because right now… we are struggling.