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Know the West

What Las Vegas area workers say about navigating record unemployment rates

Federal benefits ended last month, but over 100,000 Nevadans are still out of work.

The federal emergency unemployment benefits created to help the millions of people out of work due to the pandemic expired in early September. Even though hospitalizations remain high throughout the nation and many people are still out of work, programs that offered unemployment assistance and a weekly $300 stipend for the unemployed are no longer available. Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, with more than 120,000 people considered unemployed, according to recent data from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. The state’s 7.7% rate is down from its peak last April — nearly 30% — but it’s still more than double what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

High Country News asked reporter and photographer Bridget Bennett to speak with unemployed and underemployed Nevadans in the Las Vegas area about what it’s like to get by without a social safety net. Here are three of their stories.  

These conversations have been edited for length and clarity.

Barbra Tivas, outside her home in Henderson, Nevada.

Barbra Tivas, 55, worked as a banquet server at Green Valley Ranch Resort and Casino in Henderson, Nevada, for 14 years until she was laid off at the start of the pandemic. A few years ago, Tivas bought a home just blocks away from her workplace. The end of benefits coincides with the end of the forbearance of her home mortgage, leaving her with more bills and the loss of the safety net she depended on. 

“Everybody says, ‘Why don't you just get a job?’ Well, I’ve had three jobs since the shutdown. They’ve all been temporary, and they all had unsustainable wages, but yet a job is a job. I’m 55, and I’m competing with thousands of other workers that are half my age. I’m not saying that that’s the reason they’re not hiring. I’m just saying, I’m not being hired. You know, we need more help. We need an extension (of benefits). The expiration of our benefits was supposed to coincide with America’s grand reopening, you know? Yes, Vegas is open, but it’s not 100%. We have a long way to go. We still need help. 

“It’s great to see that the economy is starting to thrive again. But it’s not back to where it’s supposed to be. If it was, I’d have my job.” 

“The expiration of our benefits was supposed to coincide with America’s grand reopening, you know? We have a long way to go. We still need help. 
​Chauntalaynee Frazier sits for a portrait outside her home with her children, Chauntae and Isaiah.

 

Chauntalaynee Frazier, 33, lost her job in production at a Ford plant in Illinois at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She and other workers were encouraged to file for unemployment benefits. After the loss of her job and the death of a close family member, she moved to Las Vegas from Chicago, looking for a fresh start. She had hoped to find a good job to support her two children — she has a third on the way — but could only find work as a DoorDash delivery driver. The father of her yet-unborn child died of COVID-19 this summer.               

“Well, at first it was kind of confusing to me because my end-of-benefit date was scheduled to be August of 2023. So when they said, ‘End the unemployment benefits,’ I was thinking that maybe it was just the extra $300, or whatever it was, that they were giving to us. I got an email stating that it was going to be completely over, and that there were no more benefits. … In the email they were saying, ‘No, that’s it. Sept. 4 is it.’ And it was like, ‘OK, wait, what?’ I’m still trying to process it, actually.

When she was receiving the benefits, she said, “the rent was definitely able to be covered, but as far as utilities, cellphone bills and daily needs — things like that — we got behind. I’m actually still trying to catch up on my cellphone bill.”

“Me being pregnant, I do not want to get a vaccine. I feel that I don't want that to harm my baby. So (my children) are doing online classes right now.”

Joaquin Ortiz, outside his home in Henderson, Nevada.

Joaquin Ortiz, 65, worked as a buffet server at Boulder Station Hotel and Casino for seven years. With the buffets still closed, Ortiz has yet to be called back to work, so his household has had to rely on his unemployment benefits and his wife’s disability insurance. He recently started helping a friend sell cars, but the few hundred dollars a month he makes isn’t enough.

“I was looking for permanent jobs, full-time with benefits and medical insurance and everything like that. I've been applying everywhere, but nobody called me. Barback, bus person, porter for the casino, server — the jobs that I know I can do — and still nobody calls me. I even applied for a position as a driver of a limousine.

“I’ve tried — trying to do something is better than nothing. I don’t know where else to apply.”

Bridget Bennett is an independent photographer based in Las Vegas, Nevada. We welcome reader letters. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.