Every movement has to begin somewhere, and sometimes several somewheres. The political reaction to the unemployment extension situation is no different. It is difficult to pinpoint where and when 99ers, the name acquired by the unemployment recipients who remain jobless after their benefits and emergency extensions run out, began to organize (a job for a dedicated historian, it would seem) but they did so online. At small websites and blogs, 99ers began to convene and establish a dialogue about their extended joblessness. At the NELP (National Employment Law Website) website, which features testimonies of 99ers, the unemployed could find resources and news about the unemployment situation. At OpenCongress.org, the viewer could follow Congress’ disjointed and confusing efforts at fixing the economy and the unemployment situation via politics. But wherever 99ers have gone, they have become increasingly organized. And part of that organization, according to the New York Daily News, will take the 99er message to Wall Street Thursday to rally for the cause of the jobseeking jobless — the beleaguered long-term unemployed.
Michael White, a 99er and founder of the Unemployed Workers Action Group, has sponsored the rally, which will take place at Federal Hall, just a small distance from the New York Stock Exchange. “People went online to commiserate and gripe,” he told the Daily News, “then became more desperate and looked for ways to make political gestures.”
And it just might be political gestures like rallies and assemblies that get 99ers noticed, their story heard, because up until Wednesday, the plight of the 99ers had been all but ignored.
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the Americans Want To Work Act bill into the Senate on Wednesday. The legislation is the first of its kind, the title a slap at the misguided belief, espoused most vocally by people like Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Nevada Republican senatorial hopeful Sharron Angle, that the 99ers are shiftless and unwilling to look for work. According to OpenCongress.org, there has been not one mention of the 99ers or a Tier 5 category for emergency unemployment benefits legislation since the Great Recession. Economists, politicians, and the workforce soon found that massive layoffs and company closings, commingled with the economic downturn following the subprime mortgage and housing market collapse, pointed to a different kind of recession. And as the duration of the recession grew from its inception point of December 2007 (National Bureau of Economic Research), so did the number of unemployed and, by extension, the number of long-term unemployed. It didn’t take long before the Great Recession began to produce its first 99ers.
With the economy seeming to take longer than ordinary to rebound, the plight of the 99ers and their inability to find work, a need to organize has taken hold. With Congress’ perceived indifference to the 99ers and their refusal to even consider a Tier 5 (until Sen. Stabenow’s bill), the 99er situation has become a heated political topic. And with talk in Washington turning to completely eliminating the Tier system at the end of November (when the current legislation expires), 99ers are beginning to find their voice.
“When you’re losing your home because you’re broke, you don’t feel comfortable anymore just sending emails and faxes,” White, 58, a video editor in Los Angeles, told the Daily News.
His views are not solitary. Just read the comment section on any blog or article concerning the recent fight to pass the Tier unemployment extensions in the “Jobs and Benefits bill” that Republicans filibustered for two months. And almost none of that money from the bill (once the bill passed) went to 99ers, whose name is derived from the maximum length of time (in weeks) that a person can draw unemployment in certain states. It did keep some from becoming 99ers. But the respite will be brief. November is only three months away.
The Wall Street rally isn’t the first political move made by 99ers. Championed by MSNBC’s Ed Shultz, a group of 99ers attempted to get a petition in front of President Barack Obama in June that requested he sign an Executive Order for the release of funds to 99ers. Their attempt failed when Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), their chosen emissary, refused to submit their petition, explaining that only Congress had the power to appropriate monies.
The Department of Labor estimates that there are 1.4 million 99ers. However, that is an official number that is kept track through the government. That official number grew to an estimated 4 million by the time Congress passed the last emergency unemployment benefits extension measure (but dropped again when several million were again eligible for the Tier extensions). But many of the 99ers have been out of work for far more than a year. Some have not worked in over three years. And there is no Tier 5 (something Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s bill hopes to address).
The strength of the growing movement is evident in Senator Stabenow’s proposed Tier 5 bill. It is also evident in the upcoming rally being held on Wall Street on Thursday. The 99ers are coming off the Internet and going public with their jobless situation message.
And that message? Americans want to work. They need jobs. In lieu of jobs, they need assistance until they find gainful employment — so they can maintain the financial integrity of their households.
And one other message, made clear by their choice of Wall Street, which Congress bailed out to the tune of nearly $800 billion in 2008: 99ers vote.