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The U.S. unemployment rate has been declining steadily since April's record high. However, things took a turn for the worse last week when another 853,000 Americans filed a first-time jobless claim. That's the largest number of unemployment claims on record since mid-September. It's also a sign that the economy is far from stable. And that, despite some improvements, our overall recovery may still be a long way off.
If you're concerned about your job -- especially if you work in an industry that's already been hard-hit by the pandemic -- there are steps you can take to protect yourself financially. Here are a few worth exploring.
1. Boost your emergency savings
The more money you have in a savings account, the easier it'll be to cope with a period of unemployment. During normal times, it's wise to have three months' worth of living expenses available in an emergency fund. But given the crisis at hand, you may want to aim for more like six months' worth of expenses. If you're worried about your job, now's the time to spend more judiciously and pump as much cash into the bank as you can.
2. Research unemployment benefits
If you're let go at work through no fault of your own and meet your state's minimum earnings requirement, you'll be entitled to unemployment benefits. You can use this guide to research your state's benefit calculation and see what its maximum weekly benefit looks like. That way, you'll know how much income to expect if you're laid off. Keep in mind that if a second stimulus package is passed into law, unemployment benefits could get a federal boost in 2021 on top of what your state pays.
3. Line up a side gig
Given the way coronavirus cases are exploding, there's a limit to the side gigs you can take that won't compromise your safety. But if you're able to line up an outdoor or remote side gig, you'll buy yourself some income security in case your main job goes away. Look into safer earnings opportunities like dog walking or remote tutoring. Many parents need help given the shift to online learning, so that could be a goldmine.
4. Talk to your employer
You may be worried about losing your job -- but your employer could have information that alleviates your concerns. Or at least loops you in to their expectations, thereby removing some of the guesswork. Sit down with your boss and have an open conversation. Your manager may tell you there's nothing to worry about, or that layoffs are coming and give you a timeline as to when that's happening. Your boss may also be able to share details about the severance you'd be entitled to should your job go away, and that could, in turn, help with your financial planning.
The idea of losing your job during a pandemic can be terrifying. If that's a concern, take the above steps, and also, do whatever you can to make yourself a valuable employee. Being good at your job doesn't give you any guarantees. But at a time like this, it certainly doesn't hurt to be the person who goes the extra mile.