COVID-19 has affected everyone in one way or another, and lots of us are facing dramatic financial changes. Even those of us lucky enough to still be working are seeing lost clients, pay cuts, forced annual leave, and a frustrating loss of power in the job market and with our employers.
I recently shared how my finances had been impacted by the pandemic, and decided to find out what other young women were experiencing. I spoke to five women on how they’d been financially impacted by the Coronavirus.
For anyone reading from outside Australia, some terms you might not be familiar with:
Job Keeper – a payment of $1500 (before tax) per fortnight paid to employers to pass onto eligible employees, if the business has faced a 30% decrease in YoY revenue.
Job Seeker – a payment of $1100 per fortnight (also pre-tax but the amount doesn’t incur much tax), paid directly to individuals. Asset and partner income tests have been either removed or widened, meaning more people are eligible than usual.
Estelle, 24, Casual Retail Worker
Estelle has recently finished studying and was in the process of looking for full time work in sport – which unsurprisingly ground to a halt pretty sharpish. She’d kept her casual retail job after uni, which also shut down as soon as we went into lockdown. “Living at home and not having many expenses helped”, Estelle explains, but also noted her gratitude for the store closures as it was “better than risking getting sick.”
An uncertain couple of weeks were relieved by Scott Morrison’s announcement of Job Keeper, which she was eligible for as a casual employee of more than 12 months. “JobKeeper meant that my plans for the year didn’t have to completely fall through which was great. It was such a relief to think that my goals for this year might not be completely off the cards, that I may still be able to possibly move out or buy a car this year like I’d planned.”
Speaking about how her income has changed from being a casual retail employee to receiving the Job Keeper payment, Estelle explained that her income had actually increased as a result. “I was probably averaging about $800 a fortnight, so this is a lot more than I’m used to”, she said, noting that she’d only have made this sort of money during holiday trade or during periods of frequent public holiday loading.
Retail workers in Estelle’s position aren’t raking in the extra cash for nothing, though. “There’s been limited communication, and they didn’t even follow their own ‘preparing to open’ plan, or give us two weeks notice like they were supposed to.” She explains that due to the change to workplace laws that allow employers receiving Job Keeper to change the job roles and responsibilities of eligible employees, she’s somewhat at the mercy of her employer. “[The money] feels good, but I feel like I’m trapped and owe my employer whatever it is they need”, she said. “They’re also not allowing casuals who aren’t on Job Keeper to work, so there isn’t necessarily enough staff and that’s extra stress and workload on us.”
In fact, several retail chains that have reopened and likely had booming e-commerce sales during the shutdown are still claiming Job Keeper payments and essentially pocketing extra profit by having labour costs paid by the government. With Job Keeper-eligible employees covered by the government payment, Job Seeker casuals (or others who aren’t eligible for either) are locked out once again. Despite being ready and available for work, shifts aren’t offered, because businesses have to pay those wages out of their own pocket.
Bree, Self-Employed Photographer + Single Mum
Breeana is a self-employed photographer and single mum to a five year old. When Coronavirus panic and distancing measures started to affect her ability to photograph people, things weren’t looking good. Bree explained that because she’d “lived and worked through a few other similar things like Swine Flu and SARS” she first thought it might not be too much of a disruption. After a successful start to 2020, it wasn’t until one week in March when things came crashing down. “It was that week in March that I think everyone remembers for one reason or another. I had one job cancelled, then another, and then another. I lost thousands in scheduled work in a matter of days.”
Bree described the feeling of work dropping off as “terrifying”. “I started to accept the fact that I might not be able to work for 18 months. That was when I realised I might be royally f*cked”, she explained. As a single parent, Bree had luckily saved a bit of an emergency fund in recent years, but like many with a rainy day stash, she didn’t expect a global pandemic would be what she’d have to use it for. “I expected that money to be for if I became unwell or something. It was nice to have the buffer there as I knew I’d at least be able to pay my rent and keep a roof over mine and my son’s heads, but the thought of depleting those savings so soon was terrifying.”
Luckily for Bree, the Job Keeper payment was eventually extended to sole traders, which was “a huge relief”, and meant she was entitled to the $1500 per fortnight payment. She said she had a few ideas for ways to pivot, and offered a few socially distanced shoot slots when it was still allowed. “Everything was changing so rapidly though,” she said, “so I eventually had to cancel all those new ideas because nobody knew what was going to happen.”
“I’m just so grateful to live in Australia and be eligible for this financial support”, she gushed. Estimating that she’s lost around 30% of her annual income as a result, Bree notes that while some work was simply postponed, bigger event photography jobs had to be cancelled all together. She said, “I do worry things might be moving too quickly”, but expects she might be able to shoot with clients again in the near future, keeping her distance and ensuring a safe environment for everyone.
Kitch, 24, Full Time Social Media Manager with Side Hustle
24 year old Kitch works full time as a social media manager and has a side hustle doing freelance content and photography work. With many of her clients in the hospitality space, Kitch explains that she “lost three clients fairly immediately who all paid me a fortnightly amount, so that means I lost about 40% of my annual earnings in one hit.”
Not long after that, Kitch was hit with another pay cut, this time from her full time employer. “My full time job reduced my pay by 20%, so that was another big hit to my income.” In a modicum of good news, her hours were also cut to four days. Many other pay slashing employers have cut salaries but still expect the same, if not more output.
Despite the income losses, Kitch said she’s actually feeling pretty positive about her financial situation. With savings in place and notably less outgoings with isolation, she says, “the positives are that I’ve spent less money generally, not buying lunch or coffee and spending zero on public transport.”
“I’ve also had my gym membership suspended, which is another $12 a week saved, but overall I’m definitely worse off.” That said, financially-savvy Kitch said she thinks she’s coped well with the loss of income because she “never lived above her means” anyway.
Her main concern is that her contract permits her employer to extend the 20% pay cut until December. “Even if we’re back to work in July and things are somewhat back to normal, I’m a bit worried about the fact I could be earning 20% less for the rest of 2020,” she explained.
Kitch isn’t alone in having her pay cut. A vast number of companies have done the same, and while in some cases employees can exercise a level of choice in the matter, the fraught job market doesn’t leave them in a great position. A popular sentiment among employed workers right now is that they feel they’ve got to go above and beyond just to stay employed. Bosses have their staff right where they want them – unlikely to take the risk of finding another job, and at the forefront of an economy in turmoil, lucky to still have an income.
Beth, 29, Full Time Copywriter
Beth was working full time as a Copywriter and rolling her eyes at toilet paper hysteria when things soon came to a grinding halt. Realising she perhaps should’ve bought a pack or two of loo roll, Beth unfortunately found herself out of work after her employment was terminated in March. “I lost 100% of my PAYG income in 2 weeks, and it didn’t come with termination pay or redundancy or anything like that”, she said. Her initial fears were fuelled by the fact she was owed a “large sum of money”, and had no idea if/when that would ever be paid. “I was in shaky territory to start with.”
The media narrative around the pending recession and what that would mean for creative jobs like Beth’s had her concerned. “One thing I had in my favour, though, was that I’d previously been a freelance consultant. I was able to pick this up again and start trading.”
Luckily for Beth, new income opportunities through her freelance activities did surface soon after her redundancy. “A role I was interviewing for was cut from full time to 2 days per week, but they offered it to me and I took it,” she said. The uncertainty sprung Beth into what she described as “action mode”, which she was well accustomed to, having worked freelance for two years in the past. Speaking of what it’s like picking up jobs and contracts where she can, she said, “It feels quite tenuous, but it’s nothing I haven’t experienced as a freelancer.” Because she was able to start earning thorough picking up her business activities, Beth opted not to go down the path of government support. “I don’t think I would’ve been eligible for Job Seeker,” she said. “I feel for the international residents and others who should be eligible for support but for whatever reason can’t access it.”
When I asked how financially prepared she felt when the crisis hit, she expressed a somewhat sense of security with her partner still earning, but still “not particularly prepared”.
“I think it’s kicked us into a new way of thinking as a couple, where we’re more motivated to save and to reduce our expenses,” she said, explaining that their wedding plans for November were now up in the air. With so many unknowns, she’s focused on cutting back where necessary and directed her efforts towards the simplicity of having their nearest and dearest there, noting that “the details won’t matter”. “This time has shifted our perspective a bit, in that we may end up having a smaller wedding and I probably won’t do a couple of the more extravagant extra things I was considering”, she added.
Yasmin, 25, Full Time Nurse
Yas is a registered nurse working full time. As an essential worker, her income hasn’t changed, but she struggled with other aspects of managing COVID-19 finances. She explains, “my income hasn’t changed, but I felt I suffered as a result of other things changing.”
“I’ve been living alone while my partner has been away so he could work elsewhere. I noticed a huge difference in grocery prices even just for one person, and it felt like my grocery bill nearly doubled.” As a nurse, Yas had trouble finding time to get to the shops and stock up on essentials given her long hours, which meant she was doing smaller volume shops, spending more, and having to buy more expensive alternatives because of high demand.
Yas said she found it difficult to negotiate a rental reduction or any support for paying bills as she couldn’t prove hardship in terms of a loss of salaried income. “My landlord, being an investor, also put our rental property on the market, which put increased pressure on me,” she explains. Yas has also noticed her local rental market has inflated, meaning maintaining the cost of living has become “increasingly stressful”. “We still have no idea if we’ll be forced to move, either,” she said.
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