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Barb Ashbrook, with Jennifer Terry in the background.

Barb Ashbrook, with Jennifer Terry in the background.

Photographer: John-David Richardson for Bloomberg Businessweek

U.S. Unemployment Rescue Left at Least 9 Million Without Help

Red tape, fraud-prevention efforts, and overwhelmed agencies left many Americans without benefits. 

Barb Ashbrook, who lost her part-time job at a food court in downtown Indianapolis in March 2020, was denied unemployment benefits because she was earning more than $121 a week from a second job at a Dollar Tree store. Ray Rand, laid off by an RV rental company in Las Vegas, was rejected after missing a 48-hour deadline to respond to an inquiry while in the hospital. Anthony Barela, an Albuquerque barber, spent months trying to find out why he didn’t get benefits.

They’re three of at least 9 million Americans thrown out of work by the pandemic who didn’t receive any unemployment benefits despite the largest deployment of economic aid in U.S. history, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek estimate based on a review of more than a year’s worth of U.S. Department of Labor data. That’s a hole in the safety net as big as the population of Virginia.