Gov. Jim Justice is cutting off supplemental unemployment to gig workers. Why? Just sheer meanness is all I can figure. I guess maybe he’s trying to prove that he’s tough on all perceived slackers, no matter their situation.
Justice likes to pretend he’s a man of the people, but he ain’t. He recently announced that he will be cutting off all supplemental unemployment payments June 19, instead of Sept. 6, when they actually expire.
Gig workers hold a special place in my heart. I’m a gig worker. I’m a performer. I make my money standing on stage in front of people and entertaining them. Obviously, I have not been able to do that for some time. Public gatherings are still limited, and many people are still reluctant to gather in large groups. Venues that hire entertainers aren’t hiring entertainers because it’s a losing proposition at this point.
Businesses have complained that they can’t find workers because folks can make more money on unemployment than in some low-wage job, and Justice, possibly the most ironically named self-styled man of the people ever, is bowing to business. Why should workers be able to buy food and pay rent?
Entertainers — actors, bands, comedians, storytellers and the like — have no money to make. We aren’t not going back to work because we are bilking the system. We aren’t going back to work because, by and large, there is no work to go back to. No matter. Gov. Justice doesn’t care.
Full disclosure, I’m doing OK. I finally got a Paycheck Protection Program loan and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. I’m not drawing unemployment. This cut won’t hurt me. Most gig workers haven’t been so lucky. But that makes no difference to Justice.
Maybe, after Justice settles his $700 million lawsuit, he can drive for Uber or go into entertainment and see how far he can stretch the $50 he gets for doing a virtual concert.
Most people don’t go into the performing arts for the money. Consider a band of four people. If they play a gig, they might make $500 total if it’s a really good night. “Wow,’” you say. “$500 ain’t bad for a night’s work.” Well, then the band of four has to divide that $500 by four, which gives them $125 apiece. That’s not a lot.
People might still think that $125 for a night’s work is pretty good, but you have to remember that artists rarely get paid for the hours and hours and hours they spend creating content and rehearsing. By the time you divide that $125 by the many hours it took to produce one hour of entertainment, gig workers are lucky to be making a couple of bucks an hour.
Perhaps you are still cynical and think entertainers should just get “real jobs.” Fine. Turn off your TV, your streaming services, your radio, your phone and all other manner of media by which you receive entertainment. See how much you enjoy not being entertained. We enjoy entertaining you. It’s fun for us. And most of us aren’t asking that much. But we do like to eat.
The real injustice of Justice capriciously cutting off gig workers’ supplements months early is that gig workers weren’t even eligible for supplemental unemployment until a month or more after “regular” workers were. The government stepped up fairly quickly to help mainstream workers, but it took a good number of weeks longer before gig workers became qualified. Gig workers already have received fewer supplemental dollars.
If Justice were, uh, just, he would recognize that, since gig workers lost more income initially in the shutdown, they should be able to continue drawing supplements for at least the number of weeks equal to the weeks it took for their unemployment to kick in.
Even though funds are allotted for unemployment through September, Justice is cutting them off at midnight, the day before West Virginia Day. Happy Birthday, West Virginia workers. Your gift is hunger and the inability to pay your bills.