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Michelle Singletary answers viewer questions about pandemic finances

As Americans endure an unprecedented economic situation, they are confronting new challenges and worries about many aspects of their lives. In this week’s Ask Us, we focus on concerns about jobs and money. Michelle Singletary, The Washington Post’s finance columnist, joins Amna Nawaz to answer viewer questions.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to this week's Ask Us segment, where we take your questions on the pandemic to experts who can help us make sense of these difficult times.

    Fears about the economy have fueled an incredible response across our Web site and our various social media platforms, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

    For the record, Facebook is a funder of the "NewsHour."

    Amna Nawaz has more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, Judy.

    And thanks to all of you for sending us your questions.

    As we have been reporting, the economic fallout from the pandemic has been unprecedented. So, this week, we're focusing on all your concerns about your money and your jobs.

    To answer those questions, we are joined by Michelle Singletary, The Washington Post's personal finance columnist.

    Michelle, welcome back to the "NewsHour." It's good to see you.

  • Michelle Singletary:

    Good to see you as well.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It will surprise you not at all to learn people have a lot of questions on the topic, so let's jump right in.

    Our first one comes from Ann Nagahiro. She lives in the state of Washington. She reached out on Instagram.

    Here's the question from Ann.

  • Ann Nagahiro:

    For those of us who are planning on retiring in the next year or two, what would you suggest to make up the losses to our retirement funds?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michelle, a lot of people in this position. Is there a way to make up those losses?

  • Michelle Singletary:

    No, not really, not in the short term.

    Lots of people are wondering, should I sell, sell everything? But the fact of the matter is, that is sort of trying to time the market. And you don't want to do that. And you're probably going to have years until retirement.

    What you really want to focus is on making sure that you have enough income to weather this storm for another year or two. So, you would tap your emergency savings, maybe some bonds. But you really want to leave your portfolio alone.

    If it's already well-diversified and you have a good retirement plan, there really isn't anything you can or should do right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, Michelle, it strikes me that, depending on how old you are, this economic pinch is hitting you differently.

    I want to go now to one of our younger viewers.

    Kevin Kamto reached out on Facebook. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he sent us this question:

  • Kevin Kamto:

    Staying home as I continue my studies and begin a job search, I'm finding it really hard because I can't network.

    What advice would you have for a college student like me with limited skills entering the job market right now?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michelle, there's so much uncertainty for college students, recent college grads. What advice do you have for Kevin?

  • Michelle Singletary:

    Yes, it's really — it's really tough.

    And it just so happens my son is named Kevin, and he's a senior in college. And he right now is trying to get an internship for the summer. And you know what was key for him? He stayed in contact with the career office at his school. He goes to the University of Maryland, Baltimore county.

    And they have a fantastic office that is actually working to help kids or students finding some internships. There's some that are actually virtual now. He's looking at a NASA internship that would be virtual. He has got a job, actually, for the summer.

    Now, he has to go in, so momma is a little worried about that, but he was able to land an internship.

    So, one of the things is, contact the career office at your school, and just continue to put those applications out. Even though companies have pulled back, you know, the economy will start again, and they are going to need those summer workers that they're used to.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Good luck to your Kevin, Michelle, and to Kevin Kamto out there, who wrote in.

    One last question now coming to us from Lisa Quinlivan. She's a Pilates studio owner. And she reached out to us on the "NewsHour" Web site.

    Michelle, here's what Lisa had to say:

  • Lisa Quinlivan:

    I'm bleeding financially, not unemployed, yes, not fully employed as I was prior to COVID.

    What can I do to survive when I'm under the radar of the CARES Act and its economic distribution?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michelle, of course, that CARES Act she is actually talking about, the massive congressional plan to provide some kind of economic relief for America.

    What do you say to Lisa, who is stuck in this position now?

  • Michelle Singletary:

    Well, there's actually two avenues she might want to pursue, both at the same time.

    So, the CARES Act expanded unemployment for the self-employed gig workers. So, she should check on her state unemployment office to see if she qualifies. Lots of states are behind on that, but that's a possibility for her to get some income.

    And you can get an extra $600 per week up until July from the CARES Act. She should also pursue a small business loan. She's self-employed and those small business loans are also available to self-employed folks like herself.

    Now, that program has been plagued by issues, and, obviously, some people already know it ran out of money, like, right away. But there's a second funding. And so if she has a good relationship with a local bank, that she should contact them and get in line for that loan.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Great advice for people who really, really need it right now.

    Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post, always good to talk to you. Thank you for being here.

  • Michelle Singletary:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And thanks to all of you for your questions.

    You can send us more on "NewsHour"s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts or on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour.

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