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Out of Work in America: Her job was a new beginning — and then she lost it

Out of Work in America: Her job was a new beginning — and then she lost it

From the Out of Work in America: Following Americans who found themselves out of work series

Michigan woman emerged from addiction, then descended into unemployment

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Editor's note: Americans have endured economic crises before but none quite like this. To capture the depths of the suffering, The New York Times teamed up with local news organizations across the country, including the Arizona Daily Star, to document the lives of a dozen Americans who found themselves out of work. Find the entire project here.

After years of hardship, this layoff really hurt. Ronda Garmon, 50, has struggled with addiction and incarceration. She is married, with six children and five grandchildren. We first interviewed Ms. Garmon in August.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — I was born here in Grand Rapids, Mich. I had a lot of bumps in the road. My parents divorced. I didn’t handle that well. So I got into a lot of trouble, landing me in jail, which is where I completed my G.E.D. at the Kent County Correctional Facility.

I was addicted to crack cocaine for about 20 years. Fifteen to 20 years of my life, I was in and out of jail for petty crimes like retail fraud, writing bad checks, doing things to get money so that I could feed my habit.

I had to decide if I wanted to continue going to jail, to risk possibly dying from an overdose. I had to make my mind up that this is enough.

When I was in jail in 2013, the Women’s Resource Center would come in two times a week and meet with us about soft skills, communication skills and all kinds of work-related skills to get us to re-enter back into society and back into the workforce.

I stayed connected with them, and then I eventually got out and went to do volunteer work for them. And through that, working with my mentor, I landed a receptionist job there.

I was there for almost five years and then I got another opportunity to spread my wings a bit. That was with Experience Grand Rapids, which is the visitors and tourism bureau.

My job title was visitor concierge. I was the person that you see when you walk through the front door. And my responsibilities were numerous, and I enjoyed doing that work, too.

We had an amazing team. It seemed like a fairy tale because I just love being a team member where I can help people. I have a servant’s heart.

We began to pay attention to the news closely. When Covid hit and things began to change and shift, we were first sent home to work from home.

Everybody was just scared. People were growing fearful. Things just started to change every day.

At the end of March, we were pulled into a meeting, a virtual meeting, and we were notified that we would be furloughed for at least 120 days. It wasn’t guaranteed that we would all come back.

Oh my God, my heart. I still get emotional about it. I was fearful. I was afraid. I was unsure.

It was the beginning of hopelessness for me as far as finances were concerned because that was the job we were going to use to purchase a home, to save money to purchase a home.

Our life changed instantly. We had so many plans.

I’m ready to go back to work. I can’t depend on the unemployment because some people are losing it. Some people get one payment and never get another payment. I mean that could be me, and then what am I going to do?

My husband and I, we work as a team to take care of our financial responsibilities. Me without him and him without me, we just wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

I had a conversation with my boss, and they offered me a job starting Oct. 1, so I’m excited about that. But I’m just not secure with that because I’m watching the news, and I’m watching all these outbreaks. My heart is just not saying “OK, you’re going to be OK.”

I’m really, really kind of fearful.

I am more involved in my church because I need to belong. I hate being stuck at home. I hate not being able to go to work, not so much for the money, but just for a part of my sanity.

After so much time, you’ve done all the projects at your house, so what else is there to do?

I talk to my grandkids every day. That encourages me to say, “Hey, don’t give up, keep moving. You have a legacy to leave behind for your grandbabies.”

September: Without a paycheck, no control

I’m feeling hopeful because I’ve been speaking with my employer. I’m looking forward to going back to work.

Things are going a little bit tough though, because they took away that $600 a week additional unemployment. I had to call up and say, “I’m not going back to work until Oct. 1, I don’t know when my first paycheck is going to be, I need to hold off on paying this bill right now.”

Going back to work means I don’t have to worry about if I’m going to get paid, if I’m not going to get paid, how much I’m going to get paid. I have control over what’s happening. With this, I have no control.

The election is really not my priority. I just feel like it’s a bunch of people not really being mindful of what people are really going through. It’s kind of a distraction for me to the pandemic.

I’m probably going to vote for Joe Biden. I think President Trump has made a horrible mess of things so far.

October: ‘Nothing is normal’

My first day was a lot of different things. It was emotional. I was excited. It felt good to be back.

I did feel safe back at work. I was surrounded, almost claustrophobic, with the plexiglass barriers up at my desk.

I thought a lot about the risk of losing my job again. I am putting it out of my mind because I don’t want to stress myself out with negative thoughts.

I don’t feel like the pandemic is over, because nothing is like it used to be. I’m reminded everywhere I go, every time I listen to the news. I’m reminded every time I see people wearing masks. Nothing is normal.

Oh my God, it made it so much more real to me when our president got Covid. Anybody can get it. One thing I can say is, I am glad I have not been impacted like some people. They are really, really having it hard, and I really can’t say I’m having a hard time. They’ve had to move. We haven’t had to move. We haven’t had anything shut off. It’s not like we are going without. We have plenty of food and water.

I really can’t complain.


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