The last day that Nicole Smith worked at her twelve-dollar-an-hour job as an after-school teacher in Smyrna, Georgia, was March 13th. A month later, her husband, Reggie, was furloughed from his job installing hardware and software for an I.T. company. For three months Reggie had no paycheck, but this week his firm asked him to return to work. Nicole doesn’t know if she’ll ever return to her job. With little savings, this African-American couple has struggled to stay current on their rent and avoid having their ten-year-old Dodge Charger repossessed. Smith spent hours on the phone getting Capital One to accept her car payment two weeks late, although she agonized over what it would do to her family’s credit score. “It was all unnaturally unnerving,” she told me.
Smith, who is fifty years old, said that she and her husband have not received the federal government’s promised twelve-hundred-dollar-per-person stimulus check, nor the five-hundred-dollar check for her sixteen-year-old daughter, Kayla. It took Smith two months to begin receiving unemployment benefits from the state—a mere a hundred and thirty-five dollars a week. Her husband received three hundred dollars a week in jobless benefits, less than half his typical pay. Reggie and Kayla both have asthma, making them vulnerable to covid-19. In addition to worrying about their health, Smith was also shaken by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, in southeast Georgia, in March—she joined a march for justice on his behalf.