After spring break, many University of Montana students returned to college life jobless, after businesses were closed to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Both on and off campus, jobs disappeared as social distancing eliminated many positions around Missoula.
“It is really disheartening because places in Missoula were just about to hire for the summer,” said Marly Magdalene, a freshman at UM. “Every place I applied to turned me down.”
Magdalene has worked on and off in Missoula since her sophomore year of high school. After she started college at UM, she looked to finally start a new job as a server at Pangea, a new restaurant downtown. Recent social distancing regulations ruled out any chance that the restaurant would open on time.
While students like Magdalene are struggling to find jobs, others around the state are losing their jobs.
A press release from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry stated that the number of people filing for unemployment rose dramatically the first week after COVID-19 was reported in the state.
Between March 16 and 18, 5,403 new people filed for unemployment in Montana, more people than the previous 10 days combined.
To help those affected by COVID-19, Gov. Steve Bullock made a statewide plan March 17 that changed the guidelines for employees to qualify for unemployment benefits.
“The rules we’ve implemented today will ensure that workers impacted by COVID-19, whether it’s because they’ve been laid off, are quarantined or need to take care of a family member, can do so without worrying about how they will make ends meet during these difficult times,” Bullock stated.
Montanans qualify for benefits when they have to stay home to self-quarantine or to take care of a family member. They also qualify if they have lost shifts due to the virus. Normally workers have to wait a week before filing, but under the ordinance, people can apply for partial wage support immediately.
Magdalene didn’t apply for temporary unemployment. She credited her grandmother for helping her to pay rent. She hopes to find work in the near future, but was not optimistic.
“There’s nothing to do except makeup and homework,” Magdalene said. “I think that unemployment is disheartening to people if they have nothing to do outside of work.”
UM student Jordan Harmon looked forward to earning some money over the break. Harmon is primarily a Resident Assistant, but supplements her living with shifts at UM Catering.
“My work schedule didn’t really change until about the Friday before spring break,” Harmon said. “By Monday, all of the events I was scheduled to work had been canceled.”
Harmon said UM Catering would inform her when shifts would be available and left her with no other work opportunities. As an employee working for a department of UM Dining, Harmon said she would like to work other food jobs on campus.
The University of Montana unveiled a new paid COVID-19 plan. Unlike the state plan for unemployment, UM’s centered on paying people for being potentially exposed to the coronavirus.
“The Paid COVID-19 Leave will assist in situations where individuals are told by public health officials or health care providers to quarantine because of potential exposure or in situations if employees are diagnosed with COVID-19,” UM’s employee response website states.
The part-time UM Catering work staff didn’t qualify for the new leave plan, despite working with large crowds.