Before the pandemic, Carlos Arias, 51, was earning more than $2,000 a week as an Uber driver. When the casinos shut down, he found work as a cook — first at Denny’s for $13.75 an hour, then at IHOP for 50 cents more.
Suddenly earning only one-fourth of his previous income, Mr. Arias and his partner, a manger at a McDonald’s, struggled to pay the $1,100 monthly rent on their one-bedroom apartment. They tapped credit cards to keep gas in their car. They cut grocery purchases to bare essentials like rice, beans and instant ramen.
They fell behind on the payments for their Cadillac van. One morning, it was gone, seized in repossession.
He found a new job as a cook at a Mexican restaurant for an extra $1 an hour, and then a second one at an eatery inside the Ellis Island casino. For a year, he worked both positions, rising at 4 a.m. for the early shift, and sometimes not getting home until after midnight.
He felt dizzy, his vision blurring. He could not tell if he was ill or merely exhausted, and he had no health insurance. When he nearly collapsed, he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with diabetes. The medicine the doctor prescribed cost more than $50 for a 30-day course — more than he could manage.