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Coronavirus In Ohio: Up To 20,000 Barbers And Stylists Can't Access Unemployment

Dave Hatfield is a barber and an independent contractor.
Courtesy of Dave Hatfield
Dave Hatfield is a barber and an independent contractor.

Dave Hatfield is a barber, and his wife is a stylist. He says he was hit hard by news that Ohio would close all barbershops, beauty salons, tattoo parlors and spas.

"That was a freak-out moment for sure," he says. "Having a wife in the industry as well, and her not being paid either, that was a pretty big blow."

Gov. Mike DeWine's announcement Wednesday was one of the state's latest efforts to keep people at home and stop the spread of coronavirus. But it puts many barbers and beauticians who operate as independent contractors in a tough position – they can't claim unemployment in Ohio.

Like many salon workers, Hatfield's wife was laid off, so she will be able to collect unemployment. Hatfield can't, because he's an independent contractor.

Usually, Hatfield says being his own boss has benefits – he sets his own hours and prices. But now that salons are closed, there are only drawbacks.

"There’s no system in place for us to be out of work," he says. 

Plus, Hatfield says, he still has to pay rent on his studio space. Since he can't work as a barber, he is taking photosto make ends meet. 

"I’m not only like not making money, I have to lose money so that I have a job to go once all this blows over," he says. "So yeah, I hope that they expand unemployment, I hope they expand everything."

Ohio has expanded unemployment benefitsfor most residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Jobs and Family Services reported that 111,055 unemployment claims were filed Sunday through Wednesday – up nearly 3,000% from the same period last week.

"One minute you’re hearing that they’re going to expand it, and we’re all like, hell yeah, expand it, and then maybe we can get it," Hatfield says. "But even after I’ve read some of the expansions, it’s super confusing and it doesn’t seem like we’ve been included in that."

Speaking on NPR’s All Things Considered on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the administration is asking the federal government to help with independent contractors.

"You have a lot of people who are 1099s, meaning that they're independently operating in businesses – that might mean a hairdresser or somebody like that who, if we close these places, they will not be eligible for unemployment under the traditional mechanisms," he said. "And so we're reaching out, saying, help us find solutions for them, too."

It’s unclear when – or if – there will be a change.

Credit Jenn Johnston
Jaina Emerman is a hair stylist and an independent contractor.

There are some exceptions: Independent contractors who formed their own LLCs that pay into unemployment are able to apply, says certified public accountant Vafa Riazi.

"A situation like this comes up once in a blue moon," he says. "It’s not something that happens every day, but when it hits like this they are covered, they can file for unemployment."

Stylist Jaina Emerman was relieved to hear it.

"He told me I had been paying unemployment taxes for over a year, so I’m covered," she says. "And I was like, what?! I was really happy about that. I had no idea."

Many aren’t so lucky. And for them, it’s hard to keep spirits up, says stylist Kelsey Ridenour.

"Right now, we’re looking at empty books and people scared to come in," she says. "And of course, we don’t know when this is going to pass, but if you make us know that we are on your mind as well, we know that our business can survive."

Without help from the community, and the government, up to 20,000 licensed barbers and stylists in Ohio will go without any income for the foreseeable future.

Paige Pfleger is a former reporter for WOSU, Central Ohio's NPR station. Before joining the staff of WOSU, Paige worked in the newsrooms of NPR, Vox, Michigan Radio, WHYY and The Tennessean. She spent three years in Philadelphia covering health, science, and gender, and her work has appeared nationally in The Washington Post, Marketplace, Atlas Obscura and more.