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Congress and the 99ers

July 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Michael Fletcher has a great piece in the Washington Post today about the 99ers — a rapidly-growing demographic of people who have been out of work for more than 99 weeks and have exhausted all of their extended unemployment insurance benefits:

Even before his unemployment checks ended, Dwight Michael Frazee’s days were filled with the pursuit of any idea that could earn him a buck. But few are working out, and now his nights are filled with dread.

In the coming weeks, the Senate is expected to resume its debate about whether to extend the emergency jobless benefits that were passed in response to the steep increase in unemployment caused by the recession. But people like Frazee, who have suffered the longest in the downturn, will not be part of that conversation. They are among the 1.4 million workers who have been unemployed for at least 99 weeks, according to the Labor Department, reaching the limit for the insurance. Their numbers have grown sixfold in the past three years.

The 99ers are glaring examples of the nation’s most serious bout of long-term joblessness since the Great Depression. Nearly 46 percent of the country’s 14.6 million unemployed people have been out of work for more than six months, and forecasters project that the situation will not improve anytime soon. Currently, the Labor Department says there are nearly five unemployed people for every job opening.

The 99ers are the true victims of the jobless recovery. Yes, millions of people who have been out of work for months are struggling right now because Congress has let the extended benefits period expire, but a couple weeks from now that will be extended and those people will see their benefit payments return, including retroactive reimbursements for any payments that were put on hold. If they can find a job before the 99-weeks-max benefit period expires under the currently-pending extension (H.R. 5618) on November 30, 2010, in a sense, the system will have worked at helping them weather this crisis. But for those who are not able to find a job by then, they will join the ranks of the 99ers who, so far, have seen nothing but neglect from the people in charge of U.S. economic policy.

Not only are the 99ers not addressed in the current unemployment extension bill that is moving through the Senate, but of the approximately 10,000 bills that have been introduced in Congress over the past two years, not a single one of them is designed to help them. So far, there has been unanimous refusal among federal policymakers to face up to the fact that millions of people are being swept under the rug because of a crisis that was caused by government regulators and corporations. And let’s not pussfoot here — many of these people whose jobs were taken away are going to end up on the streets, and some will undoubtedly die as a direct result of the situation.

Ezra Klein explains from a policy perspective why 99ers need help in this crisis:

In a state with 9 percent unemployment — which means more like 20 percent underemployment — it’s very difficult to believe that unemployment benefits are providing a serious disincentive to work. You worry about unemployment benefits when the labor market is tight enough that people can find jobs. You don’t worry about them when there are tons of workers who need jobs, and very few jobs for them to get. Right now, there are about five workers for every one job. Unemployment insurance is not the problem here. That mismatch is. Endless unemployment insurance can be a problem when the labor market is ready to reabsorb the unemployed, but that’s not the world we’re in.

Nothing is going to happen for the 99ers unless they are organized and fighting. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] has effectively said “no” to extending benefits beyond 99 weeks, and there are grumblings on Capitol Hill that the extension currently making its way through the Senate will be the last one, meaning there will be no extended benefits after November 30th. Moreover, the Republicans, who have been blocking the current extension for months in the Senate are expected to win a significant number of seats in the next session of Congress, which begins in January 2011. The Democrats have 59 Senate seats now. Come January, they will probably have only 52 or so.

The plight of the 99ers is generally overlooked, but make no mistake: this is where the real fight for the unemployed is taking place. The extension that is currently stuck in the Senate is virtually a done deal — it is expected to pass next week and be signed into law. But that will expire in November and economists are predicting that the unemployment rate is going to stay pretty much where it is through much of 2011. That means that millions of the people who are fighting for the extension in the Senate right now will be in a much worse situation just a few months down the line unless they somehow manage to get Congress to pay attention.

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Displaying 1-30 of 96 total comments.

  • textdog 07/13/2010 12:33pm

    the big banks caused the unemployment we’re seeing — still they lobbied for looser regulations and receive hidden subsidies. We need to publicly demand that the big
    banks step up on this unemployment crisis! please sign and let’s organize!

  • Comm_reply
    jla0218 07/13/2010 5:35pm

    Sorry textdog, but I disagree. The banks simply took advantage of the same thing that the automakers, oil companies, and pharmacuetical companies take advantage of. Congresspersons, especially those making an average of $172k a year, buy ALOT of stock. If you were in congress and stood to lose a few hundred K wouldn’t you pass a bailout? The problem is that these same folks in congress have ruined the economy by taking away American companies ability to be competitive in ANY market. Of course they’ve been able to pad those pockets of theirs but they did these things (NAFTA, CAFTA, every trade agreement that adds to the growing trade deficit) for us, the American worker.

  • Comm_reply
    bobbybixler 07/14/2010 5:12am

    They keep saying that with Manchin’s appointment, the bill will pass. Don’t be so sure. There are others breaking ranks now that could kill it. It’s part of getting the compromises needed to pass other bills that lobbyists and special interests find more important. Think about it, what lobbyist or special interest is going to spend money trying to influence more unemployment compensation? It doesn’t make political sense. Lobbyists spend $1 million per Congressperson. Where does this money go??? Someday that house of cards will come tumbling down as the biggest scandal in US history, but for now, money flows where votes go. I hope I’m wrong, but it’s the reason we are already stalled on this—Manchin wants the seat himself, and he is politically wrangling to ensure whomever he appoints doesn’t get elected in November when he runs. The person he appoints has to be a pawn, then. Well we will know more on Friday.

  • Dottie 07/13/2010 12:44pm

    It is so hard to believe how the world we live in operates now. There are the have’s (the rich) and the have not’s (the poor). Then there is the middle class. The have’s do not have to worry because they have everything. The have not’s at least get help like food stamps, aid to pay their rent and power bill, and medicaid/medicare. The middle class has nothing. You do not get help with anything. My unemployment stopped in June and there is no help because my family is considered middle class and we make too much for the help that the have not’s get. A family of four with income of 30,000.00.
    Congress needs to look at the abuse of what the have not’s get. There is families that live indefinitely getting this help. Generation after generation getting what the middle class pays in taxes. Do they monitor them to go out and get a job. No! They live forever getting the food stamps, section 8, etc.

  • Comm_reply
    MADinNJ 07/13/2010 1:38pm

    Nothing like good old American ignorance.

  • Comm_reply
    Wanda1964 07/13/2010 1:39pm

    AMEN – I am 46 and was laid-off after 14 years at a job and decided to go back to college so I would not have to be on unemployment or be ‘taken care of’ by the Government. With the extended staled in Congress I have not received a check for 2 months and things are REALLY getting hard, as I am sure others know. I called to try and get Food Stamps so I could at ;east feed my daughter and myself and was told because I was in college and going full-time I DID NOT QUALIFY because I was not working 20 or more hours a week. If I was working I would not need them !!!! But if I had NEVER worked and lived off the Government I could get them!! Now that is one screwed up system!!

  • Comm_reply
    chelly 07/13/2010 6:40pm
    Link Reply
    + -1

    Dottie You really shouldn’t comment on things that you know nothing about. Do you really want food stamps that bad? People who get food stamps and section 8 are no better off than you! If your family makes 30,000 and you couldn’t get any help, how much do you think a person that qualifies for assistance makes? Don’t get me wrong there are people who abuse the system, even people who are working and don’t get any assistance, but not everybody does. Nobody wants to be poor!

  • Comm_reply
    Dottie 07/14/2010 7:03am

    I am so very sorry if I offended anyone with my comment. I am just very frustrated and I have so much despair. I know that no one wants to be poor and it is great that there are services to help the poor. But there is nothing for the middle class. I have worked since I was 18 years old and paid taxes. I lost my job due to layoff and no fault of my own. My unemployment has been cut off and there is nothing out there. There is no hope! I just wished there was some kind of help out there to help the millions of unemployed americans that are in the same boat that I am in.

  • Comm_reply
    chelly 07/14/2010 7:28am

    I agree, I think the government is trying to get rid of the middle class. They want rich people and poor people. I’m pretty sure most people who are or were getting UI would much rather have a job. I understand where you are coming from. It seems like they would rather give poor people a little help, get rid of middle class and let rich people live their lives and give them tax breaks. That little help that they give people would not be enough for most people. We need jobs!

  • Comm_reply
    melissaann 07/15/2010 6:33am

    Dottie, You are no longer middle class. You are lower class. I was in the same position as you, and it’s hard to come to terms with working so hard and losing everything.
    Now those services for the poor are for you and the millions of others.

  • Comm_reply
    unemployedrepublican22 07/14/2010 3:35pm

    I don’t know where you live, but here in Chicago, the section 8 cap for a family of two is like $45k. I think it’s national. You may not get foodstamps or medicaid (I make less than you and don’t qualify either). But you SHOULD qualify for section 8 which was listed on HUD’s site as 80% of the “median” income.

  • firestorm145 07/13/2010 12:59pm

    This is to Dottie:

    You are right there are some this way but most of the people are not living this way. They have been looking for jobs constantly like I have and not getting any jobs,so this can help. I am not in the middle class I am in the lower class. I have nothing to show.

  • seanurse 07/13/2010 1:17pm

    thank you donny for even writing this story about the glad you gave them some print time. we do need to organize and get 99ers more attention after this extension passes. this will really tell us who to vote for in november. If we fight hard the 99ers should get noticed too.WE JUST GOT TO GET MORE T.V. TIME AND MORE OFTEN TO SWAY THE SENATORS. MAYBE FILMING OUR OWN STORIES OF HEARTSHIP AND DESPARE AND POSTING IT UP ON YOU TUBE. THEN THE LOCAL NEWS WOULD PICK IT UP.

  • Comm_reply
    louise36 07/13/2010 2:17pm

    That is a good idea seanurse,but the senators don’t care. I don’t think it would matter how much the media covered it.

  • Comm_reply
    shyningglory28 07/13/2010 2:38pm
    Link Reply
    + -3

    Ok, say we all do what you suggest. Then we would be stopping people who are blessed enough to get a job from going to theirs? Sorry I don’t think acting like selfish criminals is the way to go. Just my opinion.

  • Comm_reply
    shyningglory28 07/13/2010 2:41pm

    Sorry that was for buckbusterdouglas :)

  • Comm_reply
    jla0218 07/13/2010 6:26pm

    Most working Americans could give a rats rear about us. I never gave it a thought until I became one of the unemployed and couldn’t find a job. After all HLN and CNN were reporting that the economy was slowly getting better. My wife and daughter have both been laid of in the last month and I was laid off in March. Things AREN’T getting better with the economy- which is what the major news organizations tend to report. I don’t agree with his plan but do agree with the sentiment- that all Americans should be aware of what’s happening in the real world. And as far a being a selfish criminal is concerned- when you get to the point(hopefully this won’t happen to ANYONE) where your choice is to steal food or let your 5 kids starve will you become a criminal? After all, an increase in theft would force the food companies to lay off employees to remain profitable.

  • Comm_reply
    jla0218 07/13/2010 6:38pm

    The senators don’t care about us but beleive me they care about what’s on the media. They want to get re-elected and the more Americans that are aware of the lousy job they’re doing the more they focus on the issue in the media and focus on resolving it. Do you really think that they care about the oil spill in the gulf??? Take the reports off of T.V. and see how fast this issue gets dropped in congress.

  • Jonapoo4u 07/13/2010 1:22pm

    dottie im lower class as well on a good year i make 20k a year for the last 10 years ive had 2 children on medicaid but up until 2010 we never applied for food stamps and me and my wife never qualified for medicaid you have to make under $500 a month to qualify so not all lower class live off this or even want to

  • TheDutchess 07/13/2010 1:31pm

    The problem is that this could very well be a conspiracy brought on by the Good Old Party. I have not seen a group so devastated and abused as the American unemployed. See, they know that this is something that they can effectively sweep under the rug because we have no organization and no strategy, mainly because we have no money. It takes money to get to DC and to get signs and to organize. They know this and maybe that’s why there has not been any real media coverage except for Rachel Maddow, who seems to be the only media outlet that is calling it exactly what it is – a travesty. These folks in Congress have dogs that are eating and sleeping better than most of us. If I thought that protesting in DC would get us some voice, I would do it.I can’t pay my cable bill until they pass the bill….cont’d

  • indimom2010 07/13/2010 1:38pm

    Debbie Stabenow is on C-span …pleading for the unemployed right now.

  • TheDutchess 07/13/2010 1:39pm

    I can’t hold off the bill collectors for too much longer. But in their eyes, they can’t do anything. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to get things done in Congress for our own citizens but when it comes down to other areas needing funding, these things seem to breeze right through.If I were in office, I think that there should be a law in place that would protect the US citizens from long recessions such as this one. This is a crime perpetrated on the people who need help the most by people who have the least to lose. While I’ll be able to get back the retro pay maybe next week, the 99’ers are doomed to homelessness and a cycle of poverty that we all know is almost impossible to escape once inducted into the Hall of Shame….

  • MADinNJ 07/13/2010 1:40pm

    Exhaustees not 99ers. Not every state is eligible for 99 weeks only those hardest hit by the recession.

  • Christine58 07/13/2010 1:43pm

    Hats off to Donny Shaw!! Thank you for caring enough to write about the 99ers!
    We(the unemployed) need all the support we can get at this time. Im glad I found this blog/website. I feel it is the best source of what is happening with the senators..ect. Keep up the good work Donny!

  • shyningglory28 07/13/2010 1:43pm

    Great… So I will just keep telling my five kids they can eat next month. I’ve worked my whole adult life sometimes 2 and 3 jobs and yet the government acts like we are all just sitting here waiting for a handout. Tell me if they had to wait even a day for money to eat a meal would they keep handing out these excuses? Its not just the Republican people. The democrats refuse to use money from other resources and compromise. Sure the Democrats are trying to look like the good guys and blame the Republicans but they are all the same monster. The Democrats just hide their monster under sheeps clothing better. .

  • Comm_reply
    jla0218 07/13/2010 5:56pm

    Incumbants are the problem. They actually run the government due to the power they’ve collected over the years. All of the yahoos in congress at present are playing the same old political bullcrap game as always. They’re worried about having a majority after the next election. Rep. and Dems. alike. I think we should all vote for new blood. Maybe some of us could run for congress?? Oh wait, there was something on the news about it costing 10K to file to run. What REAL American can afford that? In a couple years we will all be 99r’s and the idiots in congress will still be taking care of their own kind- the rich.

  • indimom2010 07/13/2010 1:43pm

    Thank You Debbie for standing up for the unemployed…..she pleaded for someone to stand up tonight or in the morning to give the vote needed to pass this….telling them it is very urgent and reading our comments to them.

  • indimom2010 07/13/2010 1:46pm

    Yes I agree shyningglory28 …they all need to understand what we are going through…..they better hope they are never in our shoes!!!

  • virtualbox2800 07/13/2010 1:54pm

    Remember: Unemployment is not welfare. We paid into this insurance in an event of a financial hardship. I worked for 25 years and I have never been laid off in my life. Now that I need this help, the government only gives me 6 weeks of unemployment? I don’t get it.

  • Comm_reply
    winkydog 07/13/2010 5:13pm

    We, as individuals, do not pay into UI, the companies you work for pay.

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