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Challenging times: Workers, businesses frustrated by unemployment

Kathy Nelson, of Cornell, does not have an internet connection, landline or cell phone signal in her home. Her attempts to call the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency are made by the stop sign at the end of the country road where she lives. (Photo by Caroline Carlson, Escanaba Daily Press)

ESCANABA — Many who were unemployed at the end of 2020 are still searching for jobs in the new year, but how the pandemic has effected employers and employees has varied greatly — even in Delta County.

Waitress Kathy Nelson is weathering her second layoff since March. She said while she just wants to get back to work, she is holding out to return to at Drifters Restaurant in Escanaba, where she has worked for over three decades.

“I’ve never worked for two people like that in my life,” Nelson said of owners Liza Plourde and Heather Schram. “Liza and Heather have a heart of gold. They put their employees before themselves. It’s a family business and we are a family,” she said.

Like many in the U.P., Nelson lives in an area that does not have access to the internet. With libraries closed to the public, Nelson and others without an internet connection are left to apply for unemployment benefits by phone. The challenge, she said, is proving formidable.

Several times a day Nelson drives a quarter-mile down her icy country road to a stop sign wrapped with a big red bow. There, she and others in her immediate neighborhood that have smart phones but no landlines pull to the side of the road to make phone calls.

Not reaching a human when she calls to file for unemployment has been frustrating. Getting hung up on after a recording tells Nelson, “Due to high call volume, we are unable to take your call at this time,” has been downright infuriating, she said.

This is Nelson’s second layoff without pay. During her first layoff in March of 2020, she was unable to reach anyone at the Michigan Unemployment Insurnace Agency until she was back at work after two months without benefits.

Nelson’s second layoff began on Nov. 4, and more than two months later she has yet to reach anyone by phone. The situation is unfathomable, Nelson said, pointing out people can get prescription drugs from a pharmacy over the phone using an automated system.

“Why can’t they do a system like that with unemployment?” she asks.

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