“60 Minutes” attempted to shed some light on the growing problem of the over-extended unemployed, the so-called “99ers,” those of America’s jobless who have not only exhausted their regular unemployment benefits but have also exhausted the emergency unemployment extensions provided by Congress. The longest of those extensions, which are dependent upon individual states, extends to 99 weeks; hence, “99ers.”
And although many have heard of the 99ers, most still do not know who or what they are. Many believe them to be purposefully unemployed, too lazy to look for work or too arrogant to take a job that pays less than the individual is accustomed to, but that is usually not the case. “60 Minutes” tried to alter that perception.
According to the award-winning news show, not since the Great Depression has unemployment remained at such a high rate with an economy so resistant to improvement. The unemployment rate has remained at 9.5 percent or higher for an unprecedented 14 straight months. In real people, that percentage equates to almost 15 million unemployed individuals. And, as “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley pointed out, if one counts those who are uncounted (those who no longer look for work or are underemployed/have had their salaries or hours cut) in the government’s monthly employment report, the national percentage grows to an astounding 17 percent, which pushes the actual number of jobless people well over 25 million.
There are at least 1.5 million 99ers.
Where Pelley and “60 Minutes” focused their report, California, the unemployment rate is 22 percent. Unofficially, that puts California in the 4 million range.
Congress has helped, passing emergency unemployment extensions that total $100 billion. But those extensions are set to expire at the end of November, with unemployment benefits returning to the regular payout system. The unemployed currently receiving benefits and the 99ers have been feeling the crush of a sluggish economy and extremely limited or no job prospects. They now also see the glimmer of hope for a renewal of unemployment benefits or a new Tier of benefits eligibility (Tier 5) fading as Washington has become increasingly tight-fisted and budget-conscious during the run-up to the midterm elections. There is talk that there will be no more emergency unemployment benefits extensions. The only piece of legislation that addresses the 99ers’ plight at present is one put forth by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and sits languishing in the Senate.
Being characterized as lazy or too arrogant to find work hasn’t helped the 99er cause. With many conservative politicians like Nevada Senate hopeful Sharron Angle, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell describing the jobless as shiftless, complacent, and even “spoiled,” sympathy for the 99ers has been at a minimum. But “60 Minutes” revealed that often the problem hasn’t been with the inner initiative of the unemployed but in the relative scarcity of actual jobs.
Pelley went to Silicon Valley, the Mecca of American technological ingenuity and economic boom in the latter part of the 20th century, where the current Great Recession has seen the surrounding area lose 75,000 jobs in the past three years. Modern office complexes rising 20 or more floors above the California landscape sit vacant. And true to its reputation of innovation, the unemployed of Silicon Valley, many of them 99ers or soon-to-be 99ers have taken to gathering in support groups, networking and socializing and testifying in what Pelley described as “revival meetings for the unemployed,” which are “part how-to-find-a-job workshop, part networking opportunity with the feel of a 12-step program.”
Pelley addressed the gathering of about a hundred-or-so people, asking them their education levels. Nearly everyone in the room had at least a college degree. Their stories were remarkably similar. They had worked for a decade or two, saving money, putting aside for pension funds and 401ks, bought homes and cars and lived the American dream.
And then they lost their jobs.
Not only have the 99ers exhausted their unemployment benefits and their emergency extensions, but most of them have exhausted their pensions (pulled early to pay bills uncovered by the small unemployment benefits checks), their 401ks, and their life’s savings. Some have become homeless or reliant upon others to supplement their meager or nonexistent incomes.
And still they cannot find work. The jobs are just not there.
Maryanne Rose lost her job as a real estate analyst in San Jose. Unable to find employment, she gradually lost her life’s savings and her home. She now lives in the attic of a friend’s brother and sister-in-law’s house. She told Scott Pelley she just simply did not believe she would be out of work for so long. And it does not appear as if there will be many prospects soon. She told how she had applied for a job where four positions were available — and over 2,000 people applied.
The 99ers are also relatively similar in another key way. Most are in an age group that ranges from 40 years of age through 65. As “60 Minutes” pointed out, this age group now seems to be a no-man’s-land of employability. They are too old for many companies, who want young, fresh faces; they are too young to retire.
Some are finding that they either have to reinvent themselves to make themselves more marketable or take jobs that pay far less than what they are accustomed to in order to survive.
But is there an end to this? Are the 99ers unique in some way, caught in an economic and sociological flux that will see them remain unemployed or economically downgraded by an economy unwilling to re-assimilate them in jobs equal to those of their past lives?
And what about relief? Will Congress pass another emergency unemployment benefit package to continue providing unemployment, and will they create another Tier of benefits, something to address the needs of the growing number of 99ers? How many will have to take lower salaried employment, supplement their income with multiple jobs, or totally reinvent themselves in order to find work? How many more will see decades of work and saving reduced to an endless unemployment line and countless fruitless interviews?
Maryanne Rose, the woman who started the report off as a homeless person forced to rely on the charity of a friend’s family, found employment by the time Pelley was finishing up his assignment. She had lived in the attic for seven months, cooking and cleaning to help out. She found a job working at a public school. The pay is one-third of what she used to make. But it ended two years of unemployment.
Pelley asked, “Do you imagine getting your lifestyle back?”
“No,” Rose, who is 54, replied. “Not to the same point now because now I would have to worry about, you know, my old age, in my old age you know it’s rebuild a nest egg, pay off my debts that I have. That has to happen so now, my lifestyle will not be the same ever, ever again.”
By the segment’s end, “60 Minutes” put a face on the growing unofficial group known as 99ers. It is a face filled with concern and uncertainty — for the present and for the future. It is a face mirrored by many other faces of those currently employed and newly unemployed in this spirit-crushing Great Recession. It has become the face of America.
By the end of November, when the current emergency unemployment extension bill expires, the number of 99ers will begin to increase dramatically…
“99 Weeks: When Unemployment Benefits Run Out,” 60 Minutes, CBSNews.com