A business owner took advantage of her pandemic layoff to dive deep into entrepreneurship. Now inflation is forcing her back to the 'cubicle farm.'

A business owner took advantage of her pandemic layoff to dive deep into entrepreneurship. Now inflation is forcing her back to the 'cubicle farm.'
Linda Otterbridge.Courtesy of Linda Otterbridge
  • Linda Otterbridge, 58, has been an entrepreneur for years but always had a full-time job as well.
  • Like millions of Americans, Otterbridge lost her job in 2020 and focused on entrepreneurship.

Linda Otterbridge had barely had a vacation before 2020.

The 58-year-old has been working since she was 15. Before the pandemic hit, Otterbridge, who lives in Michigan, worked as a site manager for a behavioral-health counseling center. Then March 2020 rolled around, and she was laid off.

In a way, the pandemic "was a blessing in disguise." Like millions of Americans, she received enhanced unemployment benefits, meant to offset the pandemic's mass job and income losses. That opened the door to being able to dive deeper into her true passion: helping other women start and run their own businesses.

"So having that, I was able to just do what I needed to do and just rest," she said. "It was just nice to get that rest and break."

For some workers, those benefits meant they were able to change their lives and pursue passions or dream projects that they never had the time or stable income to do. Otterbridge had been building an entrepreneurship community since 2013, called Hook A Sista Up, devoted to helping women start businesses.


"I'd already been talking to women and we were big on, what does that look like when we finally decided to take that leap and do entrepreneurship full time?" she said. "So when I lost my job, I said, 'Oh, I guess I've been pushed off the cubicle farm.'"

Before the pandemic, she ran the membership-based entrepreneurship community and hosted a podcast, but after being laid off, she was able spend more time on them. She also started an Etsy and e-book store. At the end of 2020, she picked up a part-time remote contact-tracing role to have some more income — what she said was "dipping my toes in without really going back into a 9 to 5."

That contact-tracing job ended about three weeks ago. And while Otterbridge has been living the pandemic workforce dream — focusing on entrepreneurship and working on her own terms — she's heading back to the "cubicle farm."

Otterbridge landed a position doing job-placement work, which will require in-person check-ins. It's an on-call position for now, but she's feeling pulled back into full-time work by the prospect of benefits.

"I'm okay with it because I went to the orientation, and it was so nice to just go in there and see people working," she said. She still wants flexibility to keep up with her entrepreneurship and to spend time with her grandkids.


"I'm 58 years old. I'm a long way away from Social Security, not that far, but long enough that I know I can't do this continually," she said. "So I just figured, 'Okay, I know I've been pushing the whole full-time entrepreneurship thing, but now I feel like I have to go back in.'"

Otterbridge exemplifies the economic situation that the pandemic created: Workers had the ability to receive a steady income — for some, more than they were earning in their previous jobs — and recalibrate their relationship to work. Now, the 2022 economy is throwing cold water on that, as inflation, the end of stimulus, and a lack of permanent, structural labor-market change threaten the gains that some workers have notched.

Higher prices are changing the labor market

Anyone who's bought groceries or filled up their car recently knows that things have gotten a lot more expensive. In June, the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, crept up to 9.1% year-over-year — a 41-year high. Elevated gas prices are responsible for nearly half of the increase in inflation.

"The cost of everything has gone up, so just with the recession and all the stuff that's coming, it is crazy. I know this can't be sustained with the cost of things going up," Otterbridge said. "I have a 403B" — a type of retirement plan that public schools and charities provide — "that I have from my job, and yes, I've tapped into that as well — didn't want to, but had to."

While prices look like they may be cooling off soon, relief is still a ways off. The Washington Post's Lauren Kaori Gurley reported that some Americans are picking up extra jobs to offset rising costs, with many working over 70 hours a week. A tracker from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that the percentage of employed people holding multiple jobs has been ticking up, reaching 4.8% in June — an increase from 4.6% in May.


"The pandemic was a blessing in disguise — at the time. Now, two years later, it's like, okay, it was a blessing, but I don't know if I can survive and continue doing this," she said.

"A lot has changed," she added. "The entrepreneurship stuff is cool and fun and dandy, but with the changes that have occurred now with the higher prices, gas, and economy and everything else that's happening, it no longer has that shine to it."