Face of Unemployment

David Kaltenbach stands in front of his apartment Friday, March 27, 2020, in Bozeman. A former retail employee, Kaltenbach was set to start a new job at a local diner March 16. That never happened, and now he is one of the countless unemployed in Bozeman.

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For David Kaltenbach, it all hit on the day the bars and restaurants began closing.

“That was supposed to be my first day at my new job,” Kaltenbach said. “And that was the last day at my old job.”

Kaltenbach, who also plays shows with a band and teaches music lessons to supplement his income, had left a retail job for a job at a local diner. But on Monday, March 16, Gallatin County put restrictions on bars and restaurants, and the new job told him not to come in. He was out of work.

“Between the 16th and 17th, every one of my gigs in March got canceled and all but one of my students canceled their lessons,” he said. “Everything just kind of fell apart Monday evening.”

Kaltenbach, 30, is one of the thousands of Montanans who was laid off because of COVID-19 and the ensuing fallout of trying to curb the spread of the respiratory virus. But because he was between jobs, he’s not one of the thousands who has been able to apply for unemployment insurance payments from the state.

“Because I had formally resigned my old job and I hadn’t officially started my new job, I am not eligible for unemployment,” he said.

He’s working on getting video music lessons to his students, but a lot of them took lessons to supplement school band classes — if there’s no school band classes, there’s nothing to supplement. He’s been applying to all the jobs he can find, but hasn’t heard anything back.

“Half the town is out of work, so everyone is applying for the few jobs that are left,” he said. “The bills don’t stop, even if you’re not working … I have enough money for food and bills and to make rent for April, but then looking forward to May … I’m worried.”

He’s not the only one. The Montana Department of Labor and Industry had such heavy traffic on the unemployment insurance filing site that it crashed several times this week. Some Montanans have the ability to work from home. Others were able to keep jobs in the service industry because the restaurant or bar they work at is able to provide some sort of takeout or delivery options, all allowed under the new rules. Some workers are deemed essential, like construction workers and grocery workers. But if a worker doesn’t fall into one of those categories, they may or may not have a job now.

Brianna Schutz found out on March 16 that her job at the Cat’s Paw, where she had been for more than two years, was on hold until the bar would be able to reopen.

“The Cat’s Paw especially, we have an older customer base, so I completely understand the closure,” she said.

The bar is paying its employees through April 3 even though it won’t be in business, and Schutz said she’s planning to apply for unemployment after that.

“They definitely have done what they can to help us,” said Schutz, 31.

But many bartenders, her included, rely on tips from customers just as much as the actual paycheck. When there’s no customers, there’s no tips, and there’s also no social interactions between the two.

“I feel like the bar industry gets kind of a bad reputation. Everyone assumes that regulars at bars are drunks,” Schutz said. “But I’ve met some of the best people I know at the bar that have become really close friends … It’s just hard not to see those people that you started to see on a daily basis.”

Dan Haywood saw the layoffs and furloughs coming before they hit. An audio and lighting engineer for several companies in the Bozeman area, Haywood said March was supposed to be a month full of concerts. But tours began canceling or postponing shows early in March as the virus began to spread across the nation.

“The shows started dropping off one at a time,” he said. “We kind of got hit before everyone else did.”

The companies he works for are all planning on hiring him back after the chaos has subdued some, but nobody is sure when that will be or what will happen in the interim.

Haywood applied for unemployment as soon as he could and has already received the first check. He said the process itself was “fairly painless,” but the website was experiencing such heavy traffic that when it did work, it was extremely slow.

“It’s enough to get groceries,” he said. “It’s certainly not enough for me to pay my health insurance bills that I’m getting, and it’s not enough to pay for my medication. It’s not enough to pay for either of those things.”

Both Haywood and his wife, a teacher, have health conditions that make them more susceptible to viruses like COVID-19. They’re considered compromised, meaning if one of them got sick with COVID-19, it could be much more serious than for someone with a typical immune or respiratory system.

They were also in the process of buying a house when the furloughs began. As of Friday, their house loan was in question.

“We were all approved (for a loan) on the hours I was getting, at the wage I was getting, and then this happened,” Haywood said. “We had already given our landlord 30 days, so regardless, we have to be out at the end of April.”

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.