'Nobody's working': the Californians who lost jobs to virus

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Hollywood productions shuttered, sport stadiums abandoned, bar doors bolted -- the staggering nearly 17 million US workers who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic come from a wide range of professions.

AFP meets the diverse faces of the crisis in California, the state which has seen the highest number of people filing for unemployment.

- Movies -

At any other time, the show must go on.

But Hollywood crew member Zach Matchem was abruptly told last month his feature film -- along with countless others across town -- had shut down due to social distancing rules.

"Nobody's working at the moment," said Matchem, 32. "All of us are at home on standby, waiting until we get cleared to gather in groups again before we can start taking jobs."

"There's a lot of panic" among crews paid project-to-project, he said -- although some companies like Netflix and Amazon have continued to support those attached to productions in limbo.

A self-employed production sound mixer, Matchem is relying on government schemes and personal savings until Tinseltown reopens.

The uncertainty means many "fear that Hollywood may stay closed for several months... which would be financially catastrophic to a lot of people."

"It's the blind leading the blind right now."

- Nightlife -

When California officials ordered all bars to close last month, Bobby Hooper didn't just lose one job.

"I'm out of work at three different places because of this thing -- that's what's crazy," said the 34-year-old who tended bar at a neighborhood dive and a cocktail lounge in Los Angeles.

Hooper was also manager at a brand new North Hollywood bar-restaurant, where he had spent months planning its big late-February launch.

"We were so excited -- we had a big grand opening, all of our friends came out. And then it lasted, like, two and a half weeks, and now we're closed."

With all 40-odd employees still serving trial periods when it shut, no company payoffs were available, although Hooper praised the owner for helping staff find and apply for state benefits.

"I feel bad for him! Having put millions of dollars into the building..."

"In good times or bad, people want to drink. A bartender always has a job right up until, you know, a pandemic virus!"

- Baseball -

Sylvia Sosa has spent more than four decades serving drinks and snacks at the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball stadium.

But with last month's season start canceled, she has been forced to file for unemployment.

"This is the first opening day that I've missed in 44 years," she said.

Unlike other local teams such as the Lakers basketball and Kings ice hockey outfits, the Dodgers have not provided any financial assistance, she said.

Sosa faces losing her health insurance and struggling to feed her daughters and granddaughters.

"I am so hurt that the Los Angeles Dodgers have not stepped up," said Sosa. "I feel that they have just turned their backs on the employees."

- Art -

Art galleries in trendy Venice Beach normally bustle with visitors.

But with tourists and collectors staying home, framing designer Leticia Bartelle Lorenzini has filed for unemployment until her shop can reopen.

"We are hoping the store can open at the beginning of May," she said. "Personally I don't think that is going to happen."

And with cash tight, the process of receiving benefits appears troublingly slow.

"You don't know if the system is going to crash, if they are going to be able to pay all these people... it scares me a little."