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Pain, despair and poverty reach fever pitch for unemployed workers

It’s been nine months since the coronavirus pandemic led to mass joblessness. Three American workers are a microcosm of the plight that has resulted.



Randy Chase, 57, does masonry work on construction crews. With unemployment benefits stalled since April and no savings left, he’s been living in his pickup truck outside of Denver since September, using an electric heater to keep warm.

Randy Chase

Randy Chase has lived in his pickup truck for months.

Luckily, the tiny cab of his 1996 Nissan is easy to heat and that’s a life saver in the sub-freezing winter chill outside of Denver.

So, armed with a gas-powered generator and a small electric heater, the 57-year-old makes do.

Chase has suffered misfortune after misfortune since the spring: Unemployment benefits have been stuck in limbo. Work opportunities have been sporadic. Now, the cold makes it hard to find jobs in his trade, as a mason on construction crews. His savings depleted and his truck partially wrecked by a hit-and-run driver, Chase can’t move somewhere where jobs are more plentiful.

“Having to stand on a freeway off ramp with a sign that says you’re hungry — it’s a new experience for me,” Chase said.

People in need line up at a food distribution center in the Corona neighborhood of Queens in New York.


Pain and desperation

It has been nine months since the coronavirus pandemic began its assault on American livelihoods. Since then, financial desperation has steadily grown for jobless Americans across the country.

Almost 8 million people have fallen into poverty since the summer. Savings for many, especially the lowest earners, are either dwindling or gone. Millions of households owe thousands in back rent and utilities — and face a renewed threat of eviction in the new year. A growing share of unemployed individuals say their households don’t have enough to eat.

Congress seems close to finalizing a $900 billion Covid relief bill that, as of writing, appears to include extra unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and small-business and rental assistance.

“I hope people in Congress understand the pain and the desperation people are having,” said Bill McCamley, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, which administers the state’s jobless benefits.

“I get e-mails every day, constantly talking about people facing eviction, losing their cars, worried about feeding their kids,” he said.

Two weeks to eviction

Adonijah Niles, 26, a single mom with three kids, lost her part-time clerical job in March. Unable to pay all her bills, Niles is behind $5,400 in rent. Her landlord issued an eviction notice this week ordering the family to leave in two weeks.

Adonijah Niles

Adonijah Niles, a single mom, lost her job in mid-March. She had been making about $13 an hour doing part-time clerical work for a hospitality shuttle service.

Now, Niles, 26, is six months behind on rent. She and her three young kids may soon be forced out of their apartment in Watervliet, New York.

Her current income — about $380 a week in pre-tax jobless benefits and $500 in monthly food stamps — isn’t enough to cover the family’s basic living costs. It falls well short of the federal poverty line for a family of four.

On Friday, Niles received an eviction notice. The letter, dated Dec. 16, ordered her to pay arrears — $5,400 — in full within 14 days or vacate the apartment. Otherwise, the landlord, TCIM Properties LLC, will initiate legal action to evict and recover damages, according to the document.

Niles received a similar notice in August, records show. She was protected by a temporary eviction moratorium, but that expires after December.

This is the first time I’ve needed to use unemployment in my entire work history, and the one time I did it just ruined my life. It should be criminal what they are doing to me.

Mike Carpenter

unemployed worker in Philadelphia

Maricopa County constable Darlene Martinez signs an eviction order on Oct. 7, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona.

John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images

$6,000 owed

By January, more than 11 million households will owe more than $6,000 in back rent, utilities and late fees, on average — about four months’ worth, according to an estimate from Moody’s Analytics. That’s a collective deficit of $70 billion.

“I think the levels of hardship we see right now, in terms of food insecurity and other measures, are at historic highs,” said Chloe East, an economist at the University of Colorado whose work specializes in the social safety net.

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That safety net doesn’t always provide adequate income support for people who lose work.

Unemployment, welfare, food stamps and other social programs replace just 19% of one’s prior wages in the months after job loss, on average, according to a paper published this month by East and David Simon, an economist at the University of Connecticut.

[Poverty] is hitting families in every single state in the country, every single county, every single town. There’s been no area left untouched.

Megan Curran

researcher at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy

And unemployment programs, the most important safety net for jobless individuals, are the least protective for the neediest people, East said.

That’s because low earners are disproportionately hurt by wage and work-history requirements imposed by states as a minimum bar to be eligible for aid, she said.

And low wage earners — as well as people of color and those without college degrees — are the very people who have borne the brunt of the country’s job loss since March.

Employment among those paid less than $27,000 a year was still down 20% from pre-pandemic levels in mid-November, according to estimates from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights project. By contrast, jobs among those making at least $60,000 a year are up 1% from January.

Poverty everywhere

Now, the few jobless benefits some have are at risk of being turned off, if Congress doesn’t extend temporary unemployment programs set to expire in a week’s time.

Failure to do so will push 5 million people into poverty in January, according to a paper published Tuesday by Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy.

Randy Chase’s car was busted in a hit-and-run accident, making it difficult to travel to find work.

Randy Chase

Nearly 16% of Americans — about 52 million people — were already among the ranks of the poor in November, according to Megan Curran, one of the report authors.

“[Poverty] is hitting families in every single state in the country, every single county, every single town,” Curran said. “There’s been no area left untouched.”

Many jobless Americans have exhausted savings and other financial resources, severely stressing their ability to weather a financial shock, she added.

Mike Carpenter, 35, said the unemployment system has led to financial ruin. Carpenter, who’d worked for a luxury apartment builder, hasn’t received months of jobless benefits he believes he’s owed from Pennsylvania.

Mike Carpenter

‘It should be criminal’

Many workers are suffering severe hardship as a result of administrative snafus at unemployment agencies.

Mike Carpenter, 35, has struggled to collect benefits in Pennsylvania since losing his job in the spring.

Without income, Carpenter, who lives in Philadelphia, drained savings and could barely pay bills for a half year, he said. He took on debt to finance basic needs. This week, his car was repossessed. He lost his apartment and has been staying with a friend.

“It wrecked my credit,” said Carpenter, who had been a superintendent for a luxury apartment builder. “I lost pretty much everything.”

Pennsylvania started paying Carpenter $500 a week last month but has withheld all back pay, he said. Now, the state unemployment website indicates he’s only eligible for a few more weeks of benefits.

The state was unable to provide specifics about Carpenter’s claim due to privacy laws, according to Sarah DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

She directed Carpenter to a customer service e-mail inbox to communicate questions and complaints. Carpenter says he’s sent countless e-mails to the agency, generally receiving no answer or a response that’s been of limited help.

“This is the first time I’ve needed to use unemployment in my entire work history, and the one time I did it just ruined my life,” Carpenter said. “It should be criminal what they are doing to me.”

DeSantis didn’t respond to additional request for comment.

Randy Chase has slept in his 1996 Nissan pickup truck in the Denver suburbs since September.

Randy Chase

$11,000 and a shift in fortune

Randy Chase, the unemployed worker outside Denver, has also had a lengthy fight for benefits.

He initially applied to the California Employment Development Department for aid in April, having worked in the Golden State before heading to Colorado.

California denied Chase’s request in October — almost six months later — claiming he needed to provide additional identity verification, records show. Chase claims he submitted the requested documents long ago and appealed the decision.

“I’m in a desperate situation,” Chase said on Wednesday. “Right now, I’m just trying to survive this little bureaucratic morass.”

The Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, a volunteer-led nonprofit, makes safe, legal parking spots available to homeless individuals sheltering in their cars. Above, a view from the parking lot where Randy Chase has been staying.

Randy Chase

Through it all, Chase has tried remaining in good spirits. He celebrates the small victories — in November, he found a parking lot with an electric outlet, saving $5 in daily gas to run his generator. He then received help from the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, a volunteer-led nonprofit that makes safe, legal parking spots available to homeless individuals sheltering in their cars.

After months of continual setback, it seems Chase’s luck has changed for the better. He received a call from the California labor agency on Thursday, following a CNBC inquiry, apologizing for the error and informing him of the imminent release of owed funds.

He received a deposit of $11,000 on Friday and expects another $3,000 soon, followed by regular weekly installments.

A spokesperson for the California unemployment agency didn’t return a request for comment.

“I don’t think I’m going to be struggling long,” Chase said.




RH beats earnings, hikes outlook as retail rebound boosts high-end home goods; shares jump

Shares of the high-end furniture retailer surged Wednesday after the company beat analysts’ profit and sales estimates for the fiscal first quarter.



Jason Kempin | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Shares of the high-end furniture retailer RH surged in extended trading Wednesday after the company beat analysts’ profit and sales estimates for the fiscal first quarter.

RH also hiked its full-year outlook, building on the momentum it’s seeing in the luxury home category, and gave a stronger-than-expected sales forecast for the second quarter.

In a letter to shareholders, Chief Executive Officer Gary Friedman said the remainder of this year “will surely be a tale of two halves” for the retail industry. But he said that “the un-masking of the general public could lead to a Roaring Twenties type of consumer exuberance.”

The company’s stock was last up more than 7%.

Here’s how RH did in the quarter ended May 1 compared with what analysts were anticipating, using Refinitiv estimates:

  • Earnings per share: $4.89 adjusted vs. $4.10 expected
  • Revenue: $861 million vs. $758 million expected

RH’s net income for the fiscal first quarter grew to $130.7 million, or $4.19 per share, compared with a loss of $3.2 million, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time adjustments, it earned $4.89 per share, topping expectations for $4.10.

Revenue surged 78% to $861 million from $483 million a year earlier. That also beat expectations for $758 million.

Friedman said that a strong housing and renovation market, a record stock market, low interest rates, and the reopening of the U.S. economy all bode well for the company in the quarters ahead.

RH hiked its fiscal 2021 outlook for revenue growth to a range of 25% to 30%, compared with a prior range of 15% to 20%. Analysts had been looking for a 19.7% increase year over year.

For its fiscal second quarter, RH expects revenue to grow 35% to 37%. Analysts had been looking for a 27.2% jump.

The company is preparing to kick off its global expansion in the spring of 2022, starting with England. To drive future growth, it is also considering expanding into new services, potentially into areas such as landscape architecture. It currently offers interior design consulting.

RH shares are up roughly 37% year to date. The company has a market cap of about $13 billion.

Find the full earnings press release from RH here.



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Blue Origin auctions seat on first spaceflight with Jeff Bezos for $28 million

The winning bidder will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20.



A New Shepard rocket launches on a test flight.

Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos‘ space venture Blue Origin auctioned off a seat on its upcoming first crewed spaceflight on Saturday for $28 million.

The winning bidder, whose name wasn’t released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20. The company said it will reveal the name of the auction winner in the coming weeks.

Bidding opened at $4.8 million but surpassed $20 million within the first few minutes of the auction. The auction’s proceeds will be donated to Blue Origin’s education-focused nonprofit Club for the Future, which supports kids interested in future STEM careers.

Blue Origin director of astronaut and orbital sales Ariane Cornell said during the auction webcast that New Shepard’s first passenger flight will carry four people, including Bezos, his brother, the auction winner and a fourth person to be announced later.

Autonomous spaceflight

New Shepard, a rocket that carries a capsule to an altitude of over 340,000 feet, has flown more than a dozen successful test flights without passengers, including one in April at the company’s facility in the Texas desert. It’s designed to carry up to six people and flies autonomously — without needing a pilot. The capsule has massive windows to give passengers a view of the earth below during about three minutes in zero gravity, before returning to Earth.

Blue Origin’s system launches vertically, and both the rocket and capsule are reusable. The boosters land vertically on a concrete pad at the company’s facility in Van Horn, Texas, while the capsules land using a set of parachutes.

The interior of the latest New Shepard capsule

Blue Origin

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 and still owns the company, funding it through share sales of his Amazon stock.

July 20 is notable because it also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Branson and Musk

VSS Unity fires its rocket engine shortly after launching on its third spaceflight on May 22, 2021.

Virgin Galactic

Bezos and fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson are in a race to get to space, but each in different ways. Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic are competing to take passengers on short flights to the edge of space, a sector known as suborbital tourism, while Musk’s SpaceX is launching private passengers on further, multi-day flights, in what is known as orbital tourism.

Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been developing rocket-powered spacecraft, but that is where the similarities end. While Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launches vertically from the ground, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is released mid-air and returns to Earth in a glide for a runway landing, like an aircraft.

Virgin Galactic’s system is also flown by two pilots, while Blue Origin’s launches without one. Branson’s company has also flown a test spaceflight with a passenger onboard, although the company has three spaceflight tests remaining before it begins flying commercial customers – which is planned to start in 2022.

SpaceX launches its Crew Dragon spacecraft to orbit atop its reusable Falcon 9 rocket, having sent 10 astronauts to the International Space Station on three missions to date.

In addition to the government flights, Musk’s company is planning to launch multiple private astronaut missions in the year ahead – beginning with the all-civilian Inspiration4 mission that is planned for September. SpaceX is also launching at least four private missions for Axiom Space, starting early next year.

Blue Origin’s auction may have netted $28 million, but a seat on a suborbital spacecraft is typically much less expensive. Virgin Galactic has historically sold reservations between $200,000 and $250,000 per ticket, and more recently charged the Italian Air Force about $500,000 per ticket for a training spaceflight.

Musk’s orbital missions are more costly than the suborbital flights, with NASA paying SpaceX about $55 million per seat for spaceflights to the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft named “Resilience” is seen docked to the International Space Station.


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The winning bidder, whose name wasn’t released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20. The company said it will reveal the name of the auction winner in the coming weeks.



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GameStop sales rise 25% as retailer chases e-commerce growth, says it may sell 5 million shares

GameStop sales rose 25% in the fiscal first quarter as the company focuses on e-commerce and tries to stage a turnaround.



SELINSGROVE, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES – 2021/01/27: A woman walks past the GameStop store inside the Susquehanna Valley Mall. An online group sent share prices of GameStop (GME) and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (AMC) soaring in an attempt to squeeze short sellers.

Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

GameStop‘s sales rose 25% in the fiscal first quarter, as the video game retailer embarks on a turnaround strategy partially fueled by a Reddit-inspired stock rally. The company also named former Amazon executive Matt Furlong as its new CEO.

Shares fell more than 12% in extended trading on Wednesday, after the company declined to provide an outlook for the year and said it may sell as many as 5 million shares.

Here’s how the company did for the fiscal first quarter ended May 1, compared with Refinitiv consensus estimates:

  • Loss per share: 45 cents per share adjusted vs. 84 cents expected
  • Revenue: $1.28 billion vs. $1.16 billion expected

In the quarter, GameStop reported that its net loss narrowed to $66.8 million, or $1.01 per share, from a loss of $165.7 million, or $2.57 per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, the company had a loss of 45 cents per share. Analysts were expecting GameStop to report a loss of 84 cents per share, according to Refinitiv.

Total revenue grew to $1.28 billion from $1.02 billion a year earlier, topping Wall Street’s expectations of $1.16 billion.

The company declined to provide a forecast for the year. It said sales momentum continued into the second quarter, with total sales in May increasing about 27% compared with the same month a year ago.

GameStop filed a prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell up to 5 million shares of its stock from time to time, in “at-the-market” offerings. The funds it raises through these stock sales will be used for general corporate purposes, investing in growth initiatives and strengthening its balance sheet, the company said.

As of May 1, GameStop said, it had paid off its long-term debt and no longer had any borrowings under its asset-based revolving credit facility.

The video game retailer’s stock has gyrated wildly over the past several months as retail traders have shared tips on Reddit and tried to fuel short squeezes for companies including GameStop, AMC Entertainment, Bed Bath & Beyond and Clover Health — collectively the group has become known as meme stocks.

GameStop’s shares are up 1,506% so far this year. Its shares have swung from a 52-week low of $3.77 to a 52-week high of $483. As of Wednesday’s close, shares were $302.56. Its market value is $21.41 billion.

The trading frenzy has gotten the attention of the SEC. In a filing Wednesday, GameStop said it had received a request from the SEC on May 26 to voluntarily provide documents and information. The company said it was reviewing that request and planned to cooperate.

GameStop has tried to catch investors’ attention in other ways, as it focuses more on e-commerce and poaches talent from other companies. This spring, it tapped Chewy co-founder Ryan Cohen to lead efforts to grow the online business. He was named chairman at a shareholder meeting Wednesday. The company also hired several former Amazon executives, including Jenna Owens, its new chief operating officer; Matt Francis, its first chief technology officer; and Elliott Wilke, its chief growth officer.

Yet some analysts are unconvinced that the longtime brick-and-mortar retailer can pivot its business and believe the company has been propped up by speculation.

Loop Capital analyst Anthony Chukumba dropped his coverage of GameStop earlier this year following the Reddit frenzy. He told CNBC that the video game retailer’s challenges run deep regardless of who it hires.

“It’s great that these guys worked at Amazon. Amazon is a very successful retailer that I do cover, that I’m very familiar with, but at the end of the day, GameStop’s problems have very little, if anything, to do with e-commerce,” Chukumba said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

“Their problem is not that they’re not a good omnichannel retailer. The problem is that gamers are increasingly downloading video games,” he added. “Look, they can hire Jeff Bezos when he comes back from space. … It’s not going to make a difference. The symptoms are not aligned with the medicine that the doctor is giving them. You can hire anyone you want from Amazon — not going to make a difference.”

Read the company’s earnings press release here and its CEO announcement here.

— CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this story.

Correction: GameStop named former Amazon executive Matt Furlong as its new CEO. An earlier version of this story misstated his first name.

Here’s how the company did for the fiscal first quarter ended May 1, compared with Refinitiv consensus estimates:



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