Tennesseans struggle to get by in a pandemic economy

2020: The year of dissolved jobs and a divided economy
closed - pandemic
Posted at 8:33 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-10 21:33:50-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Hannah Ferdinand planned to move closer to family at some point, but then she says the decision was practically made for her. At one point the 37-year-old enjoyed her job as a field producer for an international television series airing from Nashville. In November came the call we all dread.

“They said you have to have a call in the morning and I knew it. I said this isn’t good,” Ferdinand said.

Ferdinand says she filed for unemployment the same day and a week later certified her claim. Meanwhile, her bills were mounting and it took every dime from her savings to keep up. She decided it was best to leave her Nashville home, where she then traveled to Knoxville for a staff position. When that job dried up, Ferdinand packed her belongings once again. This time she was on her way to her parent’s home in Illinois.

“Here I am, I’m 37-years-old. I have gone through my savings. I’m living at home. I’m in my parent’s basement. All of these things I never thought would happen to me and it’s been a lot of soul searching,” Ferdinand said.

Had she managed to access the unemployment money she applied for, Ferdinand knows things would be different. Last she heard, they sent her claim to an adjudicator for review, but that was early January.

To qualify each week, Ferdinand has to apply to at least three jobs in Tennessee. She’s applied for hundreds of jobs well out of commuting distance.

“I’m not getting any answers. Nothing has moved forward. It’s almost like, we’ll get to it when we get to it. Could be 6 months, maybe a year,” Ferdinand said.

The Tennessee Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development tells us the state has 80,000 pending unemployment claims still waiting for review as of last week. On Jan. 21, they estimated there were 90,000 pending claims. 25,000 of which they believe were duplicate claims created in the chaos of when a new unemployment program took effect this year.

Greg McBride is the chief financial analyst for and says the waiting has created a divide in our economy that could be here for months to come. He says overall 42 percent of households have less income now than they did pre-pandemic. That said, there are “tens of millions of households that have managed to save more money and pay down more debt.”

If it sounds confusing given all we’ve heard about the impact of jobless, believe me, you’re not alone. McBride says our economy reflects what’s now widely referred to as the “K-shaped consumer recovery.” While families who lost their jobs had to dip into their savings, those who kept their jobs actually saved knowing they couldn’t spend like they used to pre-pandemic.

Another sign of this dichotomy is how in 2020 we saw credit card balances decrease by 9 percent compared to 2019 according to credit reporting service Experian. They say this number represents the first time since 2013 that any type of personal debt for Americans dropped. McBride says the more people saved, the more they paid off bills.

“That does not apply evenly across all households. Those that are in financial distress and have seen income disruptions, it’s a far different story,” McBride said.

Ferdinand has heard all the stats including those that say it could be until 2024 before jobs return to pre-pandemic levels. She says if we expect jobseekers to wait that long, we need to hold the TDLWD accountable. Without the help of unemployment benefits, she says it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to support themselves long enough to find a job.

“All of these things I never thought would happen to me and it’s been a lot of soul searching and saying okay, bad things can happen to good people. Life can smack you back down. It’s all about how you pick yourself up. Not about the situation that you’re currently in,” Ferdinand said.