The unemployment labyrinth may have killed this musician’s dream

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  • Derek Wood, a guitar player and singer from Arkansas, quit his job just three months before the Covid pandemic upended the labor market.
  • Wood was pursuing his lifelong ambition of playing music full-time to earn a living. A battle to collect unemployment benefits has thrown that into jeopardy.
  • His story shows how the country’s safety net for the jobless has broken down, and the intangible costs of the crisis.

Derek Wood was about to achieve a lifelong dream. Unemployment benefits may prove to be his foil.

Wood, 47, a guitar player and songwriter from the Little Rock, Ark., area, who sings with a soulful country-blues croon, quit his job in December to pursue music full-time.

The time seemed right. His band, The Going Jessies, was playing more at popular local joints and doing more multi-day road tours. The three-piece group — which includes Wood’s partner, Angela Paradis — released its first full album in 2019.

That dream is slipping away.

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Derek Wood, guitarist and vocalist for The Going Jessies, a band based near Little Rock, Arkansas, and Angela Paradis, bassist and vocalist.
Photo: John Shute III

In fact, chasing it triggered a long battle to collect jobless benefits, records show. Wood isn’t any closer to securing the funds — despite what appears to be a strong case in his favor, unemployment experts said, and after a rabbit hole of appeals.

Meanwhile, Paradis, who plays bass and sings backup vocals, is also unemployed. Years of savings is gone, diverted to everyday living costs.

If unemployment funds don’t arrive to replenish savings, a music career will likely no longer be feasible.

“It’s cost me a year,” Wood said of the ordeal. “And we’re not 25 [anymore].”

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