'What am I going to do?': COVID's economic toll

SHARON CLARK: "We musicians, we make our money with music, and if you don't go to work - even under the best case scenario - you don't get paid."

Before the pandemic, Sharon Clark – a single mother in Washington D.C. - spent 11 years as a full-time jazz singer, traveling to Russia, France and South Africa.

So when a year's worth of concerts were canceled in early 2020, Clark who has a teenage daughter panicked.

SHARON CLARK: "For the first time in my whole 11 years, I was asking myself and asking God, 'What am I going to do?' I mean, wake up in the middle of the night, like, with a panic attack.. Omigod, who's going to pay the cable bill for her to-- ? I mean, these things that we take for granted before this, we don't take for granted anymore."

And Clark is not alone. The U.S. economy lost 22 million jobs at the height of the pandemic and is still 10 million jobs short of where it was a year ago.

In January, Pepe Diaz had to permanently shut his beloved Howard Deli in Washington DC that he ran with his brother for more than 30 years.

Before the pandemic, the shop had been a lively neighborhood hangout. But sales plummeted without the foot traffic of students from Howard University and the local high school. And to make matters worse, Diaz's brother Kenny Gil-more suffered several strokes.

PEPE DIAZ: "I just remember the good times we used to have all the time - the camaraderie with all the students and the regular customers. I miss all that. Early in the morning was, like, every day early in the morning."

According to the National Restaurant Association, by the end of 2020, about 17% of all U.S. restaurants – which is about 110,000 businesses - had closed long term or shuttered for good.

For Clark though, she’s optimistic her singing work will pick up this summer, but in the meantime she’s thinking about going back to school to learn something different so that’ll she’ll have other career options in the future.

SHARON CLARK: "I'm not giving up. I'm going to sing until I can't anymore. But I'm going to learn to do something else - just in case."

Video Transcript

SHARON CLARK: We musicians, we make our money with music. And if you don't go to work, even under the best-case scenario, you don't get paid.

- Before the pandemic, Sharon Clark, a single mother in Washington, DC, spent 11 years as a full-time jazz singer, traveling to Russia, France, and South Africa. So when a year's worth of concerts were canceled in early 2020, Clark, who has a teenage daughter, panicked.

SHARON CLARK: For the first time in my whole 11 years, I was asking myself and asking God, what am I going to do? I mean, wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. What am I going to do? This is due. Oh my god, who's going to pay the cable bill for her to-- I mean, these things that we take for granted before this, we don't take for granted anymore.

SHARON CLARK: (SINGING) Joey, Joey, Joe.

- And Clark is not alone. The US economy lost 22 million jobs at the height of the pandemic and is still 10 million jobs short of where it was a year ago. In January, Pepe Diaz had to permanently shut his beloved Howard Deli in Washington, DC that he ran with his brother for more than 30 years.

Before the pandemic, the shop had been a lively neighborhood hangout. But sales plummeted without the foot traffic of students from Howard University and the local high school. And to make matters worse, Diaz's brother, Kenny Gilmore, suffered several strokes.

PEPE DIAZ: I just remember the good times we used to have all the time, the camaraderie with all the students and the regular customers. I miss all that. Early in the morning, it was like every day early in the morning.

- According to the National Restaurant Association, by the end of 2020 about 17% of all US restaurants, which is about 110,000 businesses, had closed long-term or shuttered for good.

SHARON CLARK: (SINGING) I'm biding my time.

- For Clark, though, she's optimistic her singing work will pick up this summer. But in the meantime, she's thinking about going back to school to learn something different so that she'll have other career options in the future.

SHARON CLARK: I'm not giving up. I'm going to sing until I can't anymore. But I'm going to learn to do something else, just in case.

(SINGING) He says Joey, Joey, Joey.