With his parents moving in with him in a matter of weeks — his father, 75, a two-time cancer survivor and mother, 71, both fleeing rising coronavirus cases in Florida — Burlingame quit, deciding that he couldn’t continue to go into a workplace he no longer believed was safe. Burlingame’s employer did not respond to a request for comment.
Burlingame was denied unemployment insurance by the commonwealth of Massachusetts, falling into the gaps between state and federal laws that only give limited protection to people who choose to quit work for safety reasons. He has been living without any income since July.
Burlingame is one of more than 1.5 million people who quit their jobs voluntarily because of the pandemic last year and filed for unemployment insurance, according to data from the Department of Labor, more than twice the amount over the same period in 2019. Some 80 percent have had their claims denied. A separate group of 75,000 have applied for unemployment insurance after being laid off and declining to return to work; 49 percent of that group had their claims denied.
The statistics speak to an unfortunate legacy of the pandemic: many workers have been forced to choose between a paycheck and their or their family’s health.