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Dasja Reed takes a walk with her with her 2-year-old son, Jarret
Dasja Reed takes a walk with her with her 2-year-old son, Jarret
Bryan Tarnowski for Money

After being furloughed in April, Dasja Reed has been called back to work twice this year. And twice, she’s been forced to say no. The administrative assistant with the City of New Orleans hasn’t been able to find a daycare spot for her two-year-old son.

She started the year assuming she was getting ahead financially — working on her degree, earning money through a side hustle, having a little extra cash month-to-month after paying off her car.

“I really thought I was getting some relief,” she says. “But you know, life happens. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”

In this case, the punches stemmed from a global pandemic and a recession that barreled in with unprecedented force and speed. The economy has rebounded from its darkest days in the spring, but in the past six months, nearly 8 million more Americans have fallen into poverty, according to researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. As the year closes out, there are roughly 10 million fewer jobs than there were in February.

So Reed is hardly alone in having to adapt to a harsh new financial reality. The number of long-term unemployed — those out of a job for at least 6 months — has been ticking up each month and now totals nearly 4 million. As of November, there are currently 16 unemployed people for every 10 available jobs, says Elise Gould, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute.

“It’s hard to think this will come to an end any time soon,” she adds.

Scott Hughes, who worked in live music promotions, spent months applying for any type of work he could get. After the extra $600 weekly in federal unemployment ended at the end of July, he and his wife had to spend down nearly $10,000 worth of savings to keep up with necessary bills.

In 2020, you’ve heard plenty about the "essential worker," Hughes, of Indianapolis, says he felt like an expendable one.

Unable to return to his job because of the limitations on large gatherings, he watched as support for the jobless expired and lawmakers sat by for months. They "basically pulled the rug out from under us financially and then left us hanging,” he says.

Last week, Congress finally passed new legislation to give additional money to the millions of people out of work, but it only lasts through March.

With limited help from the government, families have had to milk their savings and choose which bills to skip. It has been a months-long (and ongoing) test of financial resiliency. Here's how three families are making it work.

A 58-Year-Old Changes Her Retirement Plans

Courtesy of Victoria Mattas-French

After living paycheck-to-paycheck for most of her working life, Victoria Mattas-French felt she was finally on firm financial ground as 2019 turned to 2020.

A community business development manager for Barnes & Noble in Maize, Kan., her role perfectly combined her experience in advertising, marketing and sales. And with two daughters grown and little debt to pay down, she’d started socking away $200 a week to try to catch up on retirement savings.