There are an estimated 5 million 99ers at present in the United States. Most are uncounted in the “official” estimates provided by the Department of Labor, whose unemployment rate stands at 9.8 percent (15.1 million individuals) at present. The few that are included are swept up in the surveys that estimate the “discouraged” jobless and those that are no longer looking for work, which, for many 99ers is far from the truth of the matter. Discouraged they might be but not looking for jobs is very different than the reality of looking for a job in a nearly jobless economy where every job sees an average of five applicants. So, unemployed and severely underemployed, 99ers have been attempting to get their story heard by a Congress that could create a Tier 5 unemployment benefits extension category and perhaps provide a further lifeline of support (and maybe the only line) for American workers who still have yet to find full-time or gainful employment.
On December 16, Congress passed a compromise bill that included within its various provisions an extension of unemployment benefits for those who are considered “long-term” jobless, those unemployed individuals who have been unable to find work past the regular unemployment compensation period of 26 weeks. That much fought-over compromise bill held nothing within its scope for those millions of others, those 99ers, who have been without work for two years (99 or more weeks) and are still in the job hunt in a jobless economy. But 99ers seem to have only had a few voices raised on their behalf that have received national attention (MSNBC’s Ed Shultz, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee), and some think the grassroots approach might be helpful. Calling, e-mailing, and Twitter posting Congressmen and local representatives to get the word out about the plight of the 99ers has been ongoing on an individual and organized level since the movement began taking shape. Petitions have been signed. Rallies have been held.
Thus far, all efforts have been to no avail. Still, 99ers soldier on, attempting to get the attention of Congress, hoping for some relief from the bills that keep coming, eating away at their savings, 401(k)s, retirement funds, and pensions.
This writer has been invested in the cause of the 99ers since first discovering that there was a long-term unemployment problem, one that looked to be getting worse. And it has. It is also expected to get a lot worse. With a coming spike of new 99ers (commensurate with a spike approximately 99 weeks ago in 2008) in April and May and lasting several months, the current 5 million 99ers could potentially swell to as many as 9 or 10 million. With the job market remaining virtually flat and an unemployment rate not likely to fall below 9 percent in the coming year, that horrific number of jobless and unemployment benefits-less presents a tremendous drain on the American economy.
And if something occurs that causes more company shutdowns, drawdowns, downsizings, mergers and eliminations, the numbers could be worse. Far worse.
Because 99ers aren’t discriminatory in who they allow under their umbrella of unemployed. One becomes a 99er as soon as one remains jobless and is ineligible for further unemployment benefits, regular, extended, or emergency extended. One doesn’t actually have to have received 99 weeks of unemployment (in some states, individuals are ineligible for Tiers of unemployment due to their unemployment rate) and then got cut off to be a 99er. One just has to have exhausted their unemployment benefits.
And then there are those that fully support 99ers who never received an unemployment benefits check. These “honorary” 99ers, the families and friends and concerned citizens, understand and sympathize that not only are the long-term jobless hurting in this economic downturn, but that there are secondary victims of 99er joblessness — children, spouses, extended family, those that depend on the 99er to pay bills and invest in the local and national economy — as well.
A letter speaking on behalf of 99ers was sent to me via Associated Content channels Friday, the day the president signed into law a compromise bill that forestalled the creation of 4 million 99ers within the next three months (and perhaps as many as 6 or more million in the coming year) by authorizing funds for unemployment benefits extensions for 13 months. The bill also authorized tax breaks and cuts to the tune of $801 billion. At the same time, an omnibus government spending bill that measures over one trillion dollars and includes almost nothing to stimulate jobs (but $8 billion in pork spending). It is a necessary budgetary spending measure that ensures that the government is funded through the fiscal year, but it is also full of unnecessary funding and spending.
At the same time, 99ers cannot get a measure past introduction in either chamber of Congress.
The letter sent me is a simple one outlining the plight of the average 99er. It is a call for public awareness. It is also a cry for help from others to demand of their legislators action to actually do something for the 99ers — create an extra unemployment benefits Tier, engage in job creation, something.
Pass the letter around. Send to everyone you know. Forward it. Post it to a website, on your Wall on Facebook. Retweet it. Add to it and send it to your Congressman, Senator, the White House. But most important — make certain that copies are sent to media outlets. Perhaps if enough are sent, mainstream media might take up the 99er cause.
99ers are attempting to help themselves. Despite the railings of many ultra-conservatives, they are not the lazy, the listless, or pariahs. They are simply out-of-work Americans who have been unable to find meaningful employment in an economy that has cost most of them not only their jobs, but their homes, their lives, vehicles, savings, pensions — the list is endless — while they search for any kind of employment.
A little support from their fellow Americans might be all they need.
A copy of the letter can be found HERE at Twitlonger.
“Employment Situation Summary,” BLS.gov
“Attn 99ers! Send this letter…”, Twitlonger.com