COVID-19’s Impact on Atlanta Workers

On March 17, Christopher LaCorte was just about to fly to Amsterdam when he came down with a terrible case of pneumonia. When Georgia Voice interviewed him by phone two weeks later, he was in quarantine recovering from a presumed case of COVID-19.

Describing his symptoms in the order of their onset, he said he had “a severe headache, body ache, chills” and then “a tightness in my chest and a crackling sensation in my lungs.” Needless to say, he could not go to work.

Before the pandemic, LaCorte worked at two different bars in Atlanta as “a server at one, a bartender at another.” He says he was doing okay financially, and “luckily, I set aside money to go abroad, so I’m hoping that’s going to cover me for a time.”

When asked about the financial burden of staying at home, LaCorte said, “my main concern is my utilities and my rent.”

He says that he has received much community support, which has helped him make up for his lost income: “I’m very lucky to have had a really good clientele who virtually tip me. It is not asked, but very much appreciated.”

Nationally, unemployment has risen by 701,000 lost jobs, according to the Wall Street Journal and other sources. In Georgia, which has so far suffered less economically than most states, this translated into a 116% increase in unemployment claims between March 8 and March 21 as compared to the same time period last year, according to NPR. Total job losses in the state for the month of March have yet to be calculated, but will likely be substantial.

Industries that require in-person work and are not deemed essential have seen the greatest number of layoffs. These include “restaurants, retail, recreation, and manufacturing,” according to NPR. There has, however, been an increase in demand for the labor of warehouse workers, delivery drivers, and, of course, doctors and nurses. Due to the risk of working during a pandemic, some Amazon warehouse workers have gone on strike demanding better protection against the virus. There have also been reports of delivery driver strikes with similar demands.

Performance artists are also facing unemployment as a result of the pandemic. Tristian Dupree, who works as an entertainer and does drag performances, has been unable to work due to venue closures.

Just before the pandemic, Dupree was preparing to move to a new home. During our conversation, she said she was at her house with most of her belongings packed in boxes waiting for a move put indefinitely on hold.

Dupree says she’s getting by on “mostly noodles and grilled cheeses” to save money until working becomes possible again. When asked about performing online, she said that she has friends who are doing that, and that she is considering doing online performances in a couple of weeks.

Of life before the pandemic, Dupree says that she misses most getting to work alongside other entertainers and the spirit of mutual support between them.

The pandemic is also making it hard for college students who work part time, although in some ways they are more protected than other workers.

The US Department of Education has announced that students in federal work study programs will still be paid regardless of their ability to work from home. For Mary Mangual, a senior with work study at Emory University who has also written for Georgia Voice, this has meant receiving the remaining income she would have earned over the course of the semester.

She said, “They took the hours I usually work and estimated that for the rest of my school year.”

Fortunately for Mangual, she got another opportunity to work for Emory online outside of work study.

Other students, however, have found themselves forced to either leave their jobs to return home or quickly find housing in Atlanta. “The Emory Facebook pages are full of postings of places where people can stay in case they have jobs they can’t leave,” Mangual said.

She also worries about students finding jobs after they graduate. “I think the hiring rates are pretty relevant to this situation. In the coming months, I think the big challenge is going to be students graduating and facing a perilous transition phase.”

LaCorte, Dupree, and Mangual are all members of the LGBTQ community here in Atlanta, and each of them stressed the importance of the community in providing support to its members during difficult times. As the pandemic continues, workers will be increasingly affected by its disruption to their livelihoods. Hopefully, by supporting each other, we will survive.