October 21, 2020

I’m a 52-year-old small business owner in Oklahoma who’s been on unemployment since February. Here’s how I’m getting by.



a woman smiling for the camera: Amanda Stephenson. Courtesy of Amanda Stephenson; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider


© Courtesy of Amanda Stephenson; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
Amanda Stephenson. Courtesy of Amanda Stephenson; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

  • The Unemployed States of America takes readers deep inside the decimated American workforce.
  • Amanda Stephenson is a 52-year-old small business owner from Collinsville, Oklahoma.
  • She ran a small business making and selling cheer uniforms and dance costumes, but hasn’t had clients since February, when many local schools and performances were shut down.
  • On just $189 a week in unemployment benefits, Stephenson says she’s had to sacrifice filling prescriptions, postponed planned dental work, and has been unable to buy school clothes for her son.
  • This is her story, as told to Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Since I lost my job, life has been stressful. My husband is still working, but he works for an airline and they’ve indicated layoffs are coming. Before, I’d worked to build up a clientele for my small business making and selling cheer uniforms and dance costumes, and I worry they won’t be there once the pandemic is over.

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Our district just announced they’re delaying the start of school, and no school or activities means no business for me. Because of the CARES Act, I’m able to collect pandemic unemployment, which I’m very thankful for; however, Oklahoma UI is $189 a week. I’m determined to not get behind on my house payment, but we’ve had to cut back on things like groceries, are unable to buy school clothes for my son, and are falling behind on other bills.

(Editor’s note: According to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, the state has both Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits, which are federally funded and for self-employed or gig workers who are affected by COVID-19; and state Unemployment Insurance (UI), for traditional unemployment. For PUA, the minimum benefit is $189; claimants can submit tax information to have this amount recalculated and see if they qualify for a higher weekly amount. The maximum is $539.)

I have friends in other states that collect about double what I do. It’s been incredibly frustrating.

Clearly, our system was outdated and that didn’t help, but Oklahoma was also more concerned about fraud than processing claims. At one point, there were four different places on the homepage about reporting fraud, but you couldn’t find the link to actually apply. They had a huge banner on the page that said, “Get back to work Oklahoma.” It felt totally tone deaf, and is easier said than done.

With less money coming in, I’ve had to sacrifice on medical care and filling prescriptions, and postponed planned dental work and buying glasses.

We’ve been unable to make repairs to our home, and I’ve delayed buying a second family car.

I’m worried about how we’ll ever catch up on the bills we’re unable to pay, and that my husband will get sick and be unable to work. I’ve had symptoms for a couple of weeks, and we’re not sure he’d be paid to quarantine, although we feel he probably should quarantine. 

My job prospects right now are pretty much nonexistent.

Because I can’t spend the money to buy a second car, I’m very limited on jobs I could take, since we live in a rural area and there’s not much here. Still, I spend a few hours a day looking for work and touching base with former clients.

I honestly thought maybe there would be a positive side of all this — I think every generation has had a trial and comes out better. I thought that maybe we’d all be kinder, less entitled, and less self-absorbed.

But instead it seems like everyone is nastier, more judgmental, and more ready to attack others. I see news stories and the media saying things and posting stories I can’t believe. It’s disappointing and makes me worry about where society is headed.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story has been edited to add information from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. 

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the subject and were part of a survey conducted by Business Insider.

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