Photography

Waiting for unemployment in Oklahoma: ‘It’s a struggle right now for everybody’

With nearly 50 million filing for unemployment claims across the country since the pandemic began, thousands of desperate people have waited in long lines in places like Kentucky and Alabama where benefits have been backed up, hampered by antiquated systems and poor staffing.

Oklahoma has been having supersize events at convention centers to process about 6,000 claims so far.

Nick Oxford/For The Washington Post

On July 15, more than 1,000 people waited outside an arena in Tulsa — some of whom had begun lining up the night before, sleeping in their cars — for one of these events. Nick Oxford photographed some of these individuals and asked them to share their stories.

Nick Oxford/For The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Ashley Love, 31

Enterprise Rent-a-Car

“I filed for unemployment on March 29th, but payments stopped in early June and I haven’t received anything since.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Sealiena Cox

Self-employed house cleaner; hasn’t worked since mid-March

“My income went to zero and it’s been really difficult. I have good credit for the first time in my life and my goal was to buy a house next year, but that’s going to have to wait.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Robert Bates, 70

Independent oil and gas engineer; hasn’t worked since January

“I sold my home, and I’m closing in two and a half weeks because I need the cash.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Cynthia Boren, 65

Wig store owner; has been trying to file for unemployment since April 4

“I hope today is the end of this trip. It’s been a hardship. Imagine no salary since April. Thank God I had a little money saved.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Elijah Zuniga, 19

Did trade show setup and teardown; laid off in April

“I’ve had to be more dependent on my family members. With unemployment, I’ll be able to start saving up to get back on my own feet and get out of my family’s hair again.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Shaniqua Coleman

Fraud Department at Oklahoma Employment Security Commission; working at event

“I love helping people; it’s a humbling experience to hear all of these different people’s stories.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Gonzalo Ruiz, 45

Machinist; laid off in June

“Right now it’s hard. All of the temp agencies I applied at I still have no answer from them. We maxed out our last credit card and are down to zero now.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Jamie Young and her grandson Carter

Restaurant manager whose hours have been cut in half

“I’ve been late on insurance, car payment and pretty much everything. It’s a struggle right now for everybody. I don’t know how people that don’t have family and friends have made it.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Michael Henry, 62

Machinist; laid off June 1

“We had to cut back on helping our kids and grandkids financially. I know God is going to take care of this; he always has and always will”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

John Hill, 41

Macy’s distribution center; laid off in March

“Bills are still coming in, and I’ve got kids to take care of. I’m a disabled veteran, and I’ve been surviving on my benefits. I was doing pretty good before the outbreak happened, and it’s been pretty rough for me.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Susan Taylor, 62

Oil and gas data management; laid off early March

“It’s a completely different world; we’re thinking ahead for what the future may hold. We started a big garden this year and also built a chicken coop. You’ve got to think about how you’re going to feed your family. We had to call our major creditors and got three months’ leeway, but this is the month they all come due.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Wilmer Vargas, 32

Waiter and law student; laid off in March

“The frustration of not being able to go to work has created a void in my life. Anxiety builds up very quickly when you’re missing that paycheck.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Mecca Beard, 40

Nurse; furloughed in March

“I had to make some agreements with creditors and gave my landlord 30 days’ notice to move in with my family.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post

Charles Woodard, 47

Mechanic and construction; hasn’t worked since March

“I live with my dad, and he pretty much has been taking care of me while I haven’t had a job. I hope I can get some money to give back to my dad and help him out.”

Nick Oxford for The Washington Post