One of the more distressing aspects of the overall unemployment situation is the plight of the 99ers, who, first, lost their jobs through no fault of their own and have, because of any number of adverse reasons, not been able to find gainful or useful employment and have seen their unemployment benefits and successive extensions expire. They are called “99ers” because of the maximum number of weeks in some states where emergency unemployment benefits extensions can reach 99. But, a 99er can be anyone who has reached the end of eligibility for unemployment benefits. And, the number of ineligible continues to grow.
As pointed out by OpenCongress.org, even if current legislation in the Senate finally finds passage, many of the 99ers will remain ineligible, and more will become so with each passing week. By year’s end, even with most current measures up for consideration extending until the end of November, the number of 99ers will continue to grow — and grow rapidly.
There is currently no piece of legislation in Congress that specifically deals with the 99ers’ situation.
Although there are groups, forums and organizations putting up a fight for the 99ers (the National Employment Law Project, MSNBC talk show host Ed Shultz, various bloggers), their message has yet to become strong enough to garner congressional support. When a group of 99ers petitioned the help of Congressman Joe McDermott of Washington to personally call on President Barack Obama to issue an Executive Order on behalf of the unemployed, McDermott refused, noting that the President could not legally issue an Executive Order regarding such funds and he (McDermott) would attempt to address the unemployment extensions question through the usual congressional channels. The Congressman sponsored and introduced H.R.5618, the Restoration of Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2010, which the House of Representatives quickly passed but still waits for a vote in the Senate.
H.R.5618 does not mention 99ers.
Neither does H.R.4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, which is an umbrella bill that has, as one of its provisions, an appropriation for unemployment benefits extension.
Neither does S.3520, the Unemployment Extension Insurance Act of 2010, which is a standalone bill introduced by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Although all current bills, former bills, and variations of those bills addressed emergency extensions of unemployment benefits, producing a Tier system of extensions that, as noted, can extend to as long as 99 weeks (depending upon the state the unemployed worker resides in), they do not extend past Tier IV. The beleaguered 99ers, with few prospects in the job market or finding themselves underemployed (making less than they were accustomed to at their former place of employment), have been petitioning the government for a Tier V, a further extension of emergency unemployment benefits for those who have reached the limits of eligibility.
There are some economic indicators that show an upturn, while others are showing an increased downturn. And, there are some indicators that remain relatively unchanged. With an economy that shows no sign of a quick turnaround and a job market that — at current Department of Labor estimates — provides only one job for every five applicants, the number of unemployed 99ers will continue to grow with each passing week, regardless of whether or not one of the current pieces of legislation passes to help those — an estimated 2 million by mid-July — who have seen their benefits cut off. And, even if a great portion of those 2 million are given respite until November, what becomes of them in December?
All measures currently in Congress only allow the unemployment benefits applicant to finish the Tier that they are eligible for, which means that, at the end of the Tier period, if they haven’t found a job, they become 99ers.
And, according to OpenCongress.org and the Washington Independent, the current extension bill, whichever one gets passed, could well be the last. There seems to be an undercurrent in Washington to simply allow the unemployed to fend for themselves once the next extension is enacted. Since nearly half of the unemployed are long-term (over 26 weeks without finding employment), the situation could become quite dire for millions within the next six months — just as it has for millions over the last two years. Of the 15 million that the Department of Labor estimates are unemployed, two-thirds do not receive unemployment benefits.
Since there are approximately five million on welfare rolls, many of whom are not even counted in the unemployment statistics, how many millions of individuals are underemployed or unable to find jobs? How many of the self-employed, who are ineligible for unemployment benefits, are unable to find employment? And, then, to have to compete with the roughly 140,000 individuals that, per month, enter the job market, another 700,000 competitors vie for nonexistent job openings.
And, what of those who become unemployed in the meantime (from June through November), who get to the end of their 26 weeks (the regular allotted unemployment benefits eligibility period)? And the ones whose 26 weeks end the second week of December? The third week? The fourth, and on into the new year?
Come December, the ranks of the 99ers will begin to grow at a frightening pace. What then becomes of each unemployed individual who reaches the end of their Tier and becomes a 99er?