I was the first one laid off from my company during the pandemic. Since then, I've worked as a poll worker — here's what it's been like.

I was the first one laid off from my company during the pandemic. Since then, I've worked as a poll worker — here's what it's been like.
Jess Smith-Winchester.Courtesy of Jess Smith-Winchester
  • Jess Smith-Winchester is a 34-year-old former account manager at a digital art studio in Atlanta, GA.
  • She was the first one let go at her old company during the pandemic.
  • She's signed up to be a poll worker, and is working on her photography and monetizing her social media.
  • This is her story, as told to Caroline Cox.

Back in February, I was prepping to find another job. 2019 was a fantastic year. Going into 2020, I said, I'm getting a new job. I wasn't necessarily let go because of COVID-19 — my company knew I was unhappy and applying to other jobs. So when the pandemic buzz started, I was the first to be let go. They've let others go since then because of business slowing, and they've been paying my unemployment.

I reached out to some offers and there was a lot of momentum, then people started getting cold feet. I immediately filed for unemployment. I didn't want to take a job, then get let go in a month and have to start over again, because I heard from multiple people that unemployment was becoming a mess to get on.

Right when I got let go, my husband got promoted and started working from home full-time, so he works longer days than ever. His job ramping up kind of pushed me into this homemaker role. We don't have kids, but he's the provider, and I find myself putting the house ahead of my career focus.

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As far as money goes, we're saving. It's easier since restaurants aren't open and you can't really travel.

I'm not a homebody, so we've been doing some car travel for our mental health. But those are also times when I'm not looking for a job.

We used our stimulus check to pay off a credit card. My unemployment originally was equal to my salary before commission, so it was livable. Now, it's down to like $380 a week. We paid off my husband's student loans this past April, and it couldn't have happened at a better time.


I'm searching for jobs within my field. Competition and the potential career setback are big fears. I would take an entry-level position, but it would kind of break my heart because it wasn't until 2019 that I felt like I was making the kind of money I deserved to be making. I don't want this big gap in my work history, but I'm also being picky. At this point I don't necessarily have to settle for just anything.

While unemployed, I've taken jobs as a poll worker, done some photography gigs, I've been selling on Poshmark, and I'm attempting to monetize the blog I've had since 2007, along with my social media.

Now, day-to-day life looks like providing meals for myself and my husband, cleaning up, then tending to the house, our two cats, and our 100-plus plants. On weekdays, I try to work out, look at LinkedIn, apply for jobs, and do some photo editing. I'm an extrovert, so I also talk to friends and family a lot on FaceTime.

I graduated in 2008 into a recession, had a good job for three months, then got laid off. I got laid off again in 2011 during another dip in the economy, so this is essentially my third crisis. It's disheartening. But this time around I'm the most secure, money-wise, so I feel fortunate on that end.