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She Was About To Start A New Job. Then The Economy Collapsed.

As the coronavirus crisis tests almost every facet of American life, we’re featuring the stories of people who are struggling to stay afloat, finding unexpected financial opportunities or simply changing the way they’re thinking about money, the economy and our country’s social safety net. To do that, we need your help — we want to hear how the coronavirus crisis is affecting you economically. Please share your experience with us.

Just over a month ago, things were looking pretty rosy for Laura Buda. After an eight-year run at a midsize arts company, the 32-year-old marketing and communications specialist from Virginia was offered — and had accepted — a new job with a much larger organization.

The new gig would provide not only greater upward mobility for the future but also a higher salary for the present. To celebrate the change, Buda and her husband went on a brief getaway to the Blue Ridge Mountains during the 10-day gap between the final day of her previous job and the first day of her new one.

But during that hiatus in mid-March, the new coronavirus began spreading aggressively throughout America. Like everyone else, Buda saw schools and businesses shutting their doors in response. And like many other Americans, she began wondering how COVID-19 might affect her new job. Perhaps they’ll push back my start date by a week, she thought, or if things get really bad, maybe a month.

Then, late in the afternoon on Friday, March 20 — three days before she was slated to begin her new position — she got a phone call. A member of the company’s human resources department apologized profusely but said that the organization was being forced to rescind Buda’s offer because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Buda is part of a gray area within the nation’s reeling economy: those who left one job voluntarily for another — before COVID-19 spread and altered nearly everything in its path — but who never technically started working at the second gig. People like her are left in the lurch, not knowing whether they’ll ultimately be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Buda’s husband, who works as an attorney for the federal government, read through the unemployment stipulations carefully and told her he wasn’t sure that her unique circumstances would qualify. “They ask you to list your last job, and I had to say that I left voluntarily,” said Buda, still waiting to hear back about her filing. “There’s a small area there to explain your circumstances a little more. But with how many people are filing for unemployment, I’m not even totally sure that part will be read through closely.”

If she ends up qualifying for unemployment, she estimates that it would amount to about $1,600 per month — a little bit less than what she and her husband had been paying in child care costs for their 16-month-old son, Dominic.

There have been some silver linings for Buda and her family, however. Her son’s child care facility — which has continued to operate during the pandemic — has allowed parents to pull their children out of day care without having to pay during the crisis. (Some don’t allow that.) And the recent coronavirus relief legislation lets some people with federal student loans temporarily halt their payments, which will save Buda about $450 a month. Perhaps most important: Buda’s husband earns enough to support the family single-handedly. But they will still need to tighten their belts to get through this period.

The past four weeks have been a whirlwind for Buda. Not long ago, she had planned to buy clothes for the new job — something her bump in pay would have comfortably allowed. But now she counts it as a blessing that she never took that step. Instead of learning the ropes at her new gig, she spends her spare time — the time her toddler allows her to have — sifting through emails notifying her of openings she might be a match for.

“Anytime I’m on the computer, [Dominic] wants to push all the buttons,” she said.

Buda vacillates between looking for jobs and thinking it’s a fool’s errand, given the state of the economy. She would love to find something in theater, a field she’d worked in for a long time. But she’s also looking for jobs at nonprofits; she thinks positions with organizations that are untethered to the marketplace seem far more stable now and over the long haul.

“There are so many people who work in industries that, when things reopen, things aren’t going to go back to normal,” Buda said. “In theater, people aren’t going to want to engage right away, even if it’s deemed safe. I just think the recovery is going to be so much harder for something like that.”

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Chris Herring was a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.