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How to help the unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic

Here are six ways to help people who are unemployed right now.
Image: People wait to file for unemployment at the Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith on April 6, 2020.
People wait to file for unemployment at the Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith on April 6, 2020.Nick Oxford / Reuters

In the past four weeks, 22 million Americans have filed jobless claims. That staggering number doesn’t even reflect everyone who is truly out of work — just those who have been able to get online and file for unemployment benefits.

But not all hope is lost. There are ways to help, even if you’ve been laid off yourself. Here are a few steps you can take to ease the burden.

If someone you know has been laid off:

1. Don’t assume you know what they need

Everyone’s situation is a little different, and your perception of a person’s needs may not actually be what they are. Amanda Clayman, a psychotherapist and financial wellness advocate at Prudential, says that losing work isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight. “Sometimes [our assumptions] may be very wrong, and it’s more likely that they will take the shape of our own fears of what they want from us,” she says.

Clayman says a healthy way to ask what your loved one needs is to listen to your conversations and see what they bring up, whether it is emotional or financial support. Not all help is financial, of course — especially if you are also struggling. “If your friend is in a bad place and you want to help, you can say, ‘I want to help, but I’m worried about the position I’m in, too,’” Clayman advises.

2. Be there for them — again and again

This period of self—isolation can be pretty lonely, and not everyone will need the same kind of interaction. As with many kinds of crises, including death, job loss and illness, Clayman says that loss of friendship is a painful part. “We are afraid of being overwhelmed, we don’t know what to say, we don’t have the power to fix it,” she says.

Not every conversation needs to be about the biggest things that are going on. “You can send a funny meme or a gif,” Clayman says. “Signaling your availability is the most important thing to do, even if [the interaction] didn’t go as you hoped.”

3. Respect your loved one’s boundaries — and your own

If you want to help someone you’re close to, you need to be in tune with their needs and boundaries as well as yours, according to Clayman. “That doesn’t mean we have to react or overreact, but we can recognize the boundary and identify what that feeling is.”

If you are living with a roommate, family, member or partner who has been laid off, make sure that you can take space from each other by talking to friends to express your worry in a healthy way. If you can get a little physical space, by taking a walk or exercising safely outside, take advantage of that opportunity.

If you want to help those in your community who are out of work:

1. Check in with your neighbors

If you already know your neighbors, feel free to offer help with things like groceries or errands, if you can. If not, offering items may be a better approach than offering financial support out of the blue.

If you live in a big city and don’t know your neighbors, social media apps like Nextdoor can help connect you to other home-bound residents. You can also use traditional social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see if there are others in your area that are in need. Additionally, if you can’t donate financially, you may be able to donate unwanted goods through apps like Freecycle or the Buy Nothing Project.

2. Donate to your community foundations

Demetra Nightingale, a labor and employment researcher and fellow at the Urban Institute, says there’s a great need for community organizations that provide social services as well as employment help. “Donations of food, supplies or donations of financial resources, or a donation of time, that’s important,” she tells NBC News. She notes that some of those organizations may have been left out of federal relief funding and donations matter now more than ever.

If you do have the means to lend financial support, you can do so through local food banks or community organizations that help people in need. Follow the #ShareMyCheck initiative on social media for ideas on where to donate, if you are financially stable and can do so.

3. Offer your own expertise pro bono

Whether or not you’re still employed, you might have some skills that someone else needs. “This is a good time to prepare for the future if you’re unemployed,” Nightingale says. You can offer to review resumes, help the older or less computer-savvy file for unemployment benefits online or give whatever you’ve got. “Whether it is legal help, teaching or tutoring, or group instruction, that can be shared more broadly in our communities,” Nightingale adds.

NEXT: More ways to help victims, hospitals and more

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