MINNEAPOLIS — For the past year and a half, workers have dealt with losing income due to the pandemic.
Now three federal benefit programs have expired over the Labor Day weekend.
The programs included Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for workers (self-employed, gig workers) not usually eligible for unemployment insurance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation which provided assistance for those who were still jobless when they exhausted their state benefits. Millions will also lose an extra $300 per week through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.
"At first it was like, 'Okay, we'll get a... little time off of work' but no we just couldn't come back," said Omariasha Houston, 18.
Houston went back to work about five months ago and has been working at Chipotle for the past month and a half. While unemployed, Houston said she had issues navigating unemployment and never received any benefits.
"Right in the middle of COVID-19 many students were getting laid off," explained Cole Stevens, co-founder and vice president of the youth-led organization Bridgemakers.
Stevens was one of those people affected. The state of Minnesota mistakenly gave him some money in unemployment benefits that he used to pay bills. He then received a letter saying he had to pay it back because of a state law from 1939 stating that high school students could not receive unemployment benefits.
Youthprise and a group of Minnesota high school students, including Stevens, helped changed state law to secure unemployment benefits for students starting in July 2022.
They also won a lawsuit against the state to receive access to pandemic-related unemployment programs.
"We found in the middle of this pandemic many young people who were first or secondary breadwinners in their household actually have all of their income cut and have absolutely no sort of safety net or really insurance... to be able to protect them and their families," Stevens said.
With enhanced unemployment benefits expiring, not everyone may be ready to go back to work.
In a blog by CareerForce's Shawn Herhusky, it states, "So, if hiring was difficult before the pandemic, why does it feel harder now? There are many factors at play including continued concerns over contracting COVID-19, childcare challenges, retirements of older workers, the temporary status of many layoffs, mismatches between people looking for work and the types of jobs available, and the cushion that the enhanced benefits allowed workers to wait and find a job that is the best fit for them."
"What we're seeing is a drop-off in benefits when really the pandemic isn't over yet," Stevens added.
More than 20 states already ended benefits earlier this summer, hoping it would help address worker shortages.
"Personally, I'll be a little surprised if there is a huge influx," Ron Wirtz with the Minneapolis Federal Reserve told KARE 11 on Friday. "What we've seen from other states that have ended (enhanced benefits) early, is there might be some improvement, but it's not that dramatic. It's not going to move the needle that much."
Even so, employers are hopeful hiring will improve. Many businesses have used incentives to try and attract more employees while others have had to make adjustments, like cutting hours or even temporarily shutting down, to get by.
Stephanie Shrimp of Blue Plate Restaurant Company said in a statement, "We do expect to see more applicants with the PUA subsidy ending. We always see turnover this time of year with some of our college students leaving and the new ones returning and looking for jobs. We are always looking for great talent."
Stevens hopes more can be done to help young people looking for work be successful.
"It's great that we're able to get this figured out with unemployment and to bring justice to our young people in the unemployment insurance system and now it's time to focus on employment," Stevens said. "I think it's time we figure out how we can invest in our communities and invest in young people's skills."
Bridgemakers is currently offering employment opportunities for young people through a six month paid fellowship. They're looking for five BIPOC social-entrepreneurs looking to uplift their communities. Bridgemakers is paying $1,000 a month for six months, plus $1,000 up front. Submit for the fellowship, here, the October 15th deadline.
Since March, staff with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) have called more than 60,000 Minnesotans receiving unemployment benefits, sharing CareerForce resources to help them with their job search.
You can learn more about employment opportunities in Minnesota here.