For Better or For Worse: How Families are Coping with COVID-19 Changes

By Kathryn DeShields

Dedren Snead, 44, wasn’t prepared when he was laid off from his traveling IT consulting job on March 3. He and his wife, Neidra Snead, 43, had just spent their savings to move back to Georgia from North Carolina to put their three kids, Alex, 10, Tyler, 8, and Roxanne, 5, in a better school system.

His job didn’t provide severance. No mention of coming back once things settled. They simply gave him an additional day on the company’s dime to get home.

“I remember thinking, not now. This can’t be real,” Dedren said. “The timing was just bad. We have family in Memphis, and Tennessee was just hit by tornadoes, so we were trying to figure out if they were O.K. Then, I get this random call at the end of my shift. Never mind moving twice in six months. We figured with a couple of months of saving, we could get back to where we were. When my employers called with the news, what seemed like a calculated risk turned into an impossibility.”

Married for 12 years, Dedren and Neidra met at North Carolina State and clicked over their love of comic books, video games and writing. Neidra does freelance as a graphic designer. Though this isn’t the first time the family has experienced a layoff, COVID-19 has compounded the severity of this situation.

“What bothers us is the possibility that a lot of jobs in Dedren’s field of work may not come back,” Neidra said. “More than anything, it is the fear of the unknown that is making this so difficult.”

Like many other families who are trying to adjust to the new norm brought on by a global pandemic, Dedren is trying to figure out what’s next with a record number of Americans filing for unemployment and no clear end in sight for the virus that is wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of many.

According to The Washington Post, in one week (ending on May 9), nearly 3 million Americans filed for unemployment. This brings the eight-week total to 36.5 million people unemployed in the United States. The number of jobs lost because of COVID-19 is four times the number of jobs lost during the 2007 - 2009 recession. The reported 14.7 percent unemployment rate is rapidly nearing the estimated 24.9 percent unemployment rate peak during the Great Depression.

With more than 20.5 million jobs lost in April alone, many are trying to figure out how to navigate an uncertain future.

“I have five degrees, and I thought about getting a job at a grocery store,” said Dedren. “It’s not about being too good to do it, but I don’t want to work in a place that has so many people coming through and then come back to the house, to my family, without health insurance. In a sense, going out to work the readily available jobs seems worse than not working.”

Though Dedren considered access to cleaning products, food and toilet paper a benefit of working at the grocer, his wife encouraged him to wait instead of taking a job that was so heavily exposed to the public with a young family and no support system in Atlanta. And for good reason.

According to an article from USA Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reported that 30 supermarket employees have died from COVID-19, and more than 3,000 have called out because of signs of illness or other possible virus-related symptoms. To make matters worse, a common complaint is that customers aren’t adhering to safety guidelines.

With this in mind, Dedren’s new strategy is to hunker down financially and take the first viable job that becomes available.

“Searching for a job is even more strenuous because so many people are in the same boat,” said Dedren. “Before COVID, I felt like a qualified candidate, but there is an immense amount of competition now.”

Meanwhile, Neidra is adapting to becoming a “true full-time mom” with the kids in the house around the clock.

“My time isn’t my own anymore,” Neidra said. “The free time I would have had for my art and writing is gone. If it’s not taking care of the kids or making sure they are keeping up with their learning, it’s applying to jobs, budgeting, or preparing for the future. You hope you can reclaim a little time for yourself, but more often than not you’re tired and just go to bed.”

For most families with savings, what was once viewed as a safety net is now the only reliable income they have as second jobs and backup plans succumb to the changing landscape.

As a comic book creator/writer and the owner of SUBSUME, a conference connecting Black creative in the city, Dedren did not anticipate that his back-up revenue streams would also fail. By the time he got the email saying federal Paycheck Protection Program loans were available, the money was already gone.

“According to their rules, I’m not big enough to be a small business. A lot of the things they touted as relief for business owners does not apply to someone like me,” Dedren said. “I’m trying to work through the Small Business Administration to make some connections, but [it’s difficult to get access to the funds].”

Though the Internal Revenue Service has paid out more than $218 billion in stimulus checks, millions of Americans still haven’t received that money. For those who have received it, the amount provided is simply not enough.

“When we received the $1,800 stimulus check, it immediately went to rent. It didn’t stimulate anything, it just made sure we don’t have to worry about someone knocking on our door for 30 days,” Dedren said.

The CARES Act includes a foreclosure and eviction moratorium, but it applies only to renters living on federally backed properties. However, in the state of Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has not yet issued a statewide eviction moratorium suspending eviction proceedings or making new filings. At the time of this writing, Georgia landlords are still submitting eviction filings despite the courts being closed to all but essential court functions.

Dedren considered going back to school, but he questioned whether the job he would be studying for would even exist by the time he graduated. And as parents, Dedren and Neidra are equally worried about the kids.

“Our children can’t go to school, can’t go to the park, and can’t have friends over. My wife and I have to keep the game face on for them,” said Dedren. “They do wonder why I’m home so much. They know this is abnormal. They understand what COVID is, at least more than Governor Kemp does, but they do still wonder why I’m here. If the state could perform worse than the federal government, in Georgia, I think we’re here.”

Like most kids in the United States, Alex, Tyler and Roxanne moved to digital learning once their school closed, and the gravity of the situation hit home when they could no longer see their friends or leave the house. They are in the fourth grade, second grade and kindergarten. The Snead children all have their own laptops where they interact with their teachers and classmates over Zoom meetings and complete assignments throughout the day. Neidra and Dedren make sure their assignments are being completed and keep track of what they are learning. They also keep the children involved with what’s going on with the pandemic.

“We make sure the kids understand they aren’t being punished, and that staying at home is necessary,” Neidra said. “That this will come to an end someday. We let them know we have to stay at home for a reason, and it’s not just us. This is happening all over the world. They have asked us how long COVID is going to last, where it came from, and if we [their family] are going to get it.”

The reality of losing a job and the income it provides is top of mind for most Americans, and many are dealing with an added layer of turmoil. With more than 106,000 deaths and 1.8 million reported cases in the United States, losing loved ones to a virus that’s evolving is affecting people across the globe.

Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that racial minorities, particularly black people, account for an abnormally high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Since the pandemic started, Dedren’s family has lost two relatives to COVID-19.

According to APM Research Lab, “For each 100,000 Americans (of their respective group), 42.8 Blacks have died, along with about 18.4 Asians, 19.1 Latinos, and 16.6 Whites …To put it plainly: If all Americans had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as White Americans, at least 10,500 Black Americans, 1,400 Latino Americans, and 300 Asian Americans would still be alive.”

With many Americans receiving health insurance from their place of employment, more than 27 million people have lost their health coverage. Though the Affordable Care Act introduced during the Obama administration would provide coverage for those who lost their jobs, the Trump’s administration has not advertised this or the fact that individuals must sign up within 60 days of losing their job.

And there are added stresses.

“The idea of not being able to visit family or go to the funeral. The simple things we hold dear are being affected by this virus,” said Dedren. “The time and attention you can give to people and things that matter is so precious right now. Reconnect, forge new relationships. We’re all uniformed in this struggle, whether or not we agree on how to handle it.”

Despite hardship and heartbreak, the Sneads are getting through it all.

Dedren, for example, is getting back to the basics with his kids.

“Being around my family more has been a good part of this whole scenario,” said Dedren. “Seeing clean rooms, and having the kids saying ‘Hey, Dad, I want to talk to you’ versus trying to cram a week’s worth of missed school recitals and activities into one Saturday. Out of all of this, I can’t give this up. I wash dishes and do all the things I haven’t done since they were born. I wouldn’t get back on the road if you paid me, but I do need to get paid.”

Neidra is confident about their family.

“Our kids, like their parents, love video games and computers,” she said. “As long as we have electricity and the internet, we’ll be O.K. They still have access to the world. I think online connectivity is what’s getting a lot of people through this.”

And this: “As long as you are able to put God first, put fact over fiction, use common sense, and hold onto hope, you can make it,” said Neidra. “There will always be obstacles in life, some much harder than others, but you can overcome them. Despite these hard times and this constant bad news, if you’re alive, your family is around you, and there’s food on the table, consider yourself extremely lucky, extremely blessed.”

Adds Dedren: “Our forefathers and ancestors went through way tougher things than this and came through. This is a good moment to reinvent ourselves. In the stillness, you can come up with a plan on who you want to be and refocus your narrative.”

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