“After my parents passed away in my mid-20s, I decided that I wanted to go back to cosmetology school. Both of my parents were actually in cosmetology. I always knew that I wanted to be doing something in the beauty world.

“I’ve been doing hair and I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs just trying to make ends meet. I purchased a house a little while ago … and now with the lockdown, it’s just, it’s almost impossible to make ends meet.

“[The lockdown] has just really, really put a dent in my income … a huge dent to this point. I tried to apply for unemployment. But I make $50 a week too much, and that was me only netting $150 a week. I made too much money to qualify for it. All I get is $194 a month cash for groceries.

“After my parents passed away, I ended up developing anxiety and depression. And that’s literally been compounded since the start of COVID-19 … with my livelihood closing down, not being able to make any money, not being able to apply or not being qualified for unemployment.

“I now had to get several odd jobs. I never really know where I’m going to be working and really not having a steady income like I did. That has really messed with my anxiety a lot. They’ve quadrupled my medication.

“COVID is compounding anxiety and depression for everybody, it’s just making it so much worse than when people had coping mechanisms like going to the gym or going for a walk and now those aren’t there anymore.

“I would wait on the phone for like five hours a day, and I would call the unemployment line multiple times a day and all I would get was a recording that said that they couldn’t take my call at this time. I called every number that they gave me.

“There’s this unemployment office in Burbank and I started to wait outside the office – me and a bunch of other people. Somebody finally came out to tell us to just leave. Everybody’s like, ‘We’re not leaving.’

“A man came out yelling and asked me ‘what the f– I wanted him to do. … They only have 200 people working for unemployment for the state of Illinois.’ These people, like me, have paid exorbitant taxes and have paid into a system, and now have no way of getting unemployment.

“So, go figure that actually did work because they started taking our phone calls then. One lady first told me my unemployment was stolen. I was freaking out. Is my bank account compromised? It turns out that my unemployment benefits are just not available, because I didn’t qualify for it.

“All that to find out that you don’t qualify and you get nothing.

“I need a new circuit breaker box for my house. I was trying to save money for that … I have no light in my kitchen, my bathroom, my downstairs or in my garage. And I’ve got to live with it like that.

“What I got from the government is that I need to wear a mask while I’m cutting in the salon, that is usually somewhere between 75 and 80 degrees. And while my client is in the chair, they need to be wearing a mask, too. How are you going to get around the ears while your client is wearing a mask? It doesn’t work. They’re going to be trying to breathe and it’s hard enough with the harsh chemicals that we use. I would fall over sideways if I had to wear that mask at the salon all day.

“I have a lot of salon owners reaching out to me because so many people like hairstylists are now just quitting. I mean, we make below minimum wage because it’s supposed to be covered by tips. You’re just going to watch a whole bunch of people go belly up.

“I wonder where the governor thinks that he’s going to be getting his tax revenue from when all of his small businesses are gone. To start a progressive tax hike on your middle class, what you’re really doing is you’re pushing the middle class out of your state.

“I could definitely see myself moving out of this state. … I get the feeling that the governor and his policies don’t really seem that popular with a lot of people that I’ve talked to.

“These are good people who work hard every day. Why is that the group that is constantly being punished in the state?”

Jada Nettle
Chicago, Illinois

Photo by Javier Hernandez