In the fall of 2007, when the U.S. economy first seemed in peril, I began answering reader queries here on the Business Desk. I still do so, but this page has expanded to include posts from eminent economists, "far-flung correspondents," and a variety of voices that have intriguing and/or useful things to say about economics, broadly defined. Please feel encouraged to respond to any and all of them.
Editor's Note: Last month, Congress extended federal unemployment benefits for people who had been out of work up to 99 weeks. But for the millions of Americans who have been jobless longer than that -- the "99ers" -- there will be no more checks coming.
Tonight on the NewsHour, Paul Solman talks to 99ers, and to economists who disagree over whether the government should extend their unemployment benefits even longer.
In reporting this story, we received letters from dozens of 99ers talking about their experiences. We've posted nine of them, anonymously, below.
We'd like to hear from others of you as well -- if you're a 99er, post your story in the comments section below.
I'm a 49 year old single mother of a 15 year old. I was laid off in September of 2008 and my unemployment ended in April of 2010. The way New Jersey calculates your base year made me ineligible for more than 79 weeks. I apply to just about 50 jobs per week and I went to school and got some medical certifications that are just about useless. Everyone I speak with says "your certifications are great, but we're really looking for some experience." I have been unable to pay my rent since June and expect to be evicted shortly. I have no one in a position to help, and can't even imagine what it's going to be like, telling my daughter that we have no home. [...] Although I can't consider suicide, I understand where these people are at!
I am a 44 year old man from Northern Illinois, just southeast of Chicago.
Like so many long-term unemployed, I am a "99er." I have worked my entire
adult life (the past 22 years in Information Technology), earned a
comfortable living and always paid my taxes. That all changed in January of
2008 when my position was eliminated from the advertising company in which I
worked. I was aware that the economy was struggling at the time and the job
market less than ideal, but I had no idea just how difficult (or impossible)
finding a new job would be. I was certain that with 22 years of experience,
letters of recommendation and the vast network of colleagues I had, I would
not be unemployed long. How wrong I was.
As of today, I have sent out well over 1,300 resumes and have received only two
phone calls, neither company ever called me back a second time. I have used
all available savings and even borrowed thousands from relatives to stay
afloat, but to no avail. I have since lost my house to foreclosure, after
17 years of making on-time payments, and had to move in with relatives. My
wife, daughter and I only survive now by their good graces and food stamp
assistance provided by the state.
In the last several years of my career, I earned at or near 6 figure income
and never had to worry about my bills, my credit score or a way to care for
my family. Now, that has all changed. Aside from a temporary place to live,
we now have zero income, food stamps and the need to file bankruptcy, which
I simply can't afford to do at this time. Meanwhile, my credit is completely
ruined and I have the foreclosure on my record, not to mention all of our
past due debts are still being reported as late and unpaid. I currently have
several judgments against me as well. Prior to losing my job, I have never
had to claim a single penny of unemployment, have never been sued and have
never had to rely on others to care for my family.
When we lost our home, we had to give up our cats, who we loved and cared
for as family. We downsized from 2 vehicles to 1 and the remaining vehicle
is now down and in need of repair. Again, no money to pay for the repairs.
We eliminated cable TV and cell phones in an attempt to hang on, but in the
end all efforts failed. Our mortgage company made the comment that since our
home was worth more than we owed, they were better of taking it from us. No
offer to work with us at all. Their estimation of our home's worth was also clearly way overvalued and we couldn't even short sell.
The future not only looks bleak, it appears that the American Dream has
vanished entirely for us. The stress has been nearly unbearable and our
health is collectively taking a hit too.
Put simply, I have always been a proud American and believed I lived in the
greatest nation in the world. Since becoming unemployed, I have arrived at a
very different conclusion. When the U.S. government hands out tax breaks to
the rich, war funding, bailouts to corrupt banks, auto manufacturers and
foreign entities without so much as a second of hesitation and then plays
political games over "pay-go" rules where U.S. citizens and their lives are
concerned, it makes me literally feel sick. I am not typically one for
entitlement, but when our own government allows such a disaster to occur and
then dismisses it lightly, I feel they should work hard to correct it. It is
no secret that the economy is not recovering at a suitable rate and many
have and will continue to wind up like myself and my family or possibly
I feel that Congress should be tried as a whole for crimes against
humanity ... As it turns out, we clearly live in one of the most clueless,
corrupt and seedy nations in this world. One that cares very little for its
own citizens and far more about money, politics and power.
I can't even begin to predict what will come of us going forward, but in
being honest, it won't resemble the American Dream at any level.
I certainly appreciate your interest in and willingness to cover this
unpopular topic. We as 99ers need people like you and Michael Thornton to
continue to bring this very real problem into the spotlight. Without
coverage, it would be even easier for the U.S. government to sweep us under
the carpet. They allowed this mess to unfold and they should be forced to
deal with it just as the rest of us do.
To briefly tell you what has happened to me, I was evicted from my apartment on July 23 and am now have no place to live. Throughout this time of unemployment I have relocated a few times to look for work but still have not found any. I have sent out literally thousands of resumes with no responses for the most part. It appears my education is worthless, but still has to be paid for! [...] I am a 49 year old divorced woman who cant find a job to literally save my life.
Here is our story about losing our jobs, and pretty much everything we ever worked so hard for in these past 40 years. We're your average American Joe family, born and raised in Massachusetts, happily married 35 years, raised five children and now have 11 grandchildren. We were looking forward to making our plans for retirement within the next five years or so.
One day in 2008 our bubble burst with all our hopes and dreams torn apart which has since changed our lives forever. It was early 2008, when my husband first lost his job in February after being employed as a Fiberglass Technician with a boat company for 25 years. All in all he has worked and has experience in the boat business for nearly 40 years. Little did we know at that point that this was only the beginning of the end for us. We fell behind in mortgage payments, lost our home, lost a car and lost our savings, his profit sharing and many of our belongings we had to sell to survive because now unemployment checks were taking the place of his weekly paycheck. While he searched daily for jobs, we barely scraped by but weren't totally drowning at that point because I still held my job.
Suddenly in October of 2008, I also lost my job of 12 years as a "funding specialist" for a corporate office which sold timeshares. We were the largest company here in the Northeast. I felt my job was secure because we were a large company. The lay off came very unexpectedly due to my company getting declined for a loan that very day. The CEO decided to let the long term employees go to save more money on payroll as most companies do. That day was when the dominoes really began to tumble and they haven't stopped falling since.
By then, my husband and I were in a rental and just recovering and accepting the loss of our home. We were trying to move forward as positive as possible. With this latest blow, we knew we'd now be on the verge of losing our rental without my income and with the ups and downs of waiting for unemployment checks to kick in. We spoke to our landlord who was willing to work with us the best he could because of our financial disaster. We knew though, that he could only "be nice" for only so long. After all, he had his mortgage to pay also.
With our ages, my husband is 60 and I am 57, we knew this would add to the frustration to search for new jobs. Little did we realize just how much more difficult it would be. We quickly found out that "age discrimination" in the workplace is rampant. We also learned that because we had long-term jobs, it was more of a hindrance rather than the expected "good mark" on the resumes. We feel we are not getting interviews because the employer automatically feels we will be seeking a higher salary than what they have to offer which squashes any hope for interviews. Knowing this now, we began writing on our applications that we did not expect top dollar and we would discuss this when interviewed. Even with that, we get no responses or interviews.
Not knowing what will come next, the worries especially for my husband have been overwhelming and he started having health issues due to lack of sleep etc from worry. He became more depressed with every job he applied for knowing chances were he'd never hear a word. With the help of medication, his depression has improved. We have stacks and stacks of "thanks but no thanks" letters for jobs we've applied to. I'm sure we've been to over 100 jobs and only had one interview each. His unemployment ended in March and we can't survive on my measly check. The rent is behind as well as the utilities and I'm now on my last extension. We don't even want to think what will happen when my checks stop coming in. As we continue our search for jobs, we try to stay as positive as possible but must admit, some days are very depressing.
It also infuriates us when we hear people implying that people on unemployment are lazy and don't want to work. We never asked to lose our jobs and we thought we would be at our jobs until retirement. We've worked for over 40 years and have never been unemployed. Why would we ever want to lose everything we ever gained? Five years ago we were traveling once a year to Las Vegas or Aruba etc. Why would anyone willingly sit around and give all that up to collect a fraction of what you earned? It just doesn't make sense. People who haven't lost their jobs really don't understand what its like.
Believe me when we say, there are not many jobs out there and the few that are, they are not hiring people in our age group. We understand the employers' position and therefore we don't blame them for not hiring us, but what are people in our position supposed to do? Quite naturally if there are 100 people in a line hoping to get hired, the strong 30 year old will be hired before the aging 60 year old who only has a few years left to offer any company.
Our outlook is looking pretty grim these days and continue to get grimmer as our "job hunt" went from days, then days to months and now months to years. With no income we will end up living out in a tent in the woods. It's not quite the place I was picturing to have family and grandchildren over for Sunday dinner. This situation is embarrassing and degrading as our grown children and grandchildren watch helplessly as we struggle through each day.
I believe a Tier 5 is desperately needed not only for us but for the millions of others in the very same position as us. Until the government finds ways to create more jobs and stabilizes the economy further, we feel they are obligated to continue caring for their own here at home rather than continuing to send money to foreign countries to help them. For us, the American Dream has turned into an American Nightmare like no other. Little did we know that at our age rather than making plans for retirement, we are now making plans to fight for a place to live, eat and barely survive. Without the assistance needed, this country will never be the same again.
Thank you for your interest in the stories of the "99ers" a.k.a the "Exhaustees"... and that is exactly what I am -- exhausted -- from the stress of losing my job (two years ago today!), exhausted from applying for hundreds upon hundreds of jobs with no response, exhausted and humiliated from hearing that I am "a lazy hobo," (or worse!) exhausted from revising my resume to discount my qualifications and disguise my age, exhausted from trying to make ends meet on the meager unemployment benefits I received (and paid into for forty-plus years in the job force), exhausted from sleepless nights now that my benefits have run out, exhausted from sending letters, faxes, e-mails and making phone calls (that I cannot afford!!) to a callous Congress of cowards who are too afraid of losing their OWN jobs in November to support the backbone of our country; our hardworking, tax paying, law abiding, soon-to-be-non-existent middle-class, long-term unemployed.
I will not bother to detail my personal woes as my story is like four million others. I am exceedingly grateful and lucky to have qualified for unemployment benefits, and to have been able to hold on this long. Until this past June I had been able to continue to pay for my personal medical policy, but have since had to let it lapse. I have high blood pressure and clinical depression/anxiety disorder (who wouldn't after being unemployed for two plus years?!), conditions for which I will no longer be able to afford my prescribed medications. It would be dishonest of me to say that I have not considered that suicide may be my only way out if I cannot soon find work. I and millions of others have few other options.
I am terrified of what my future does not hold but I refuse to give up hope that someone in Washington, D.C. will have the guts to put THEIR job on the line and stand up for the Exhaustees. This continuing lack of jobs and long-term unemployment is a NATIONAL EMERGENCY that the President MUST respond to. In times of dire straights and disaster the United States extends aid to millions and millions of people in countries all around the world. Are our own long-term unemployed Americans not worthy of that same aid? We do not want a handout, WE WANT TO WORK, but we need help to hang on until there are enough jobs for everyone!
My story is not unlike many others that have lost their UEC benefits. I have been without benefits for 10 weeks now. I have had to use my income tax refund which came from unemployment benefits. I had $1,139 in my savings from my refund and now I am down to $200 and that will be gone after this month. I am using these funds to pay for bills and food. I was laid off from the American Red Cross in February of 2008. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio. This does me no good in applying for work. I have applied, applied and applied with few interviews and no call backs. I am even applying for minimum wage jobs but no results there.
I have never in my life had such a hard time to find a job. I am 48 and have worked since I was 14. My fiancee is retired and has to file for bankruptcy from using credit cards since my unemployment and that's even with my benefits.
I know things are worse for those with children and those that are single and have had to move back home with a relative or those who lose their homes and become homeless. Our food pantries cannot keep up with the demand. The homeless are wandering the streets because our homeless shelter is full.
There are so many of us that have exhausted their Tier IV benefits and I plead with the congressional party to help us, save us and keep us on our feet until we can find any work that is available. I am depressed, frustrated and feel I am about to completely lose myself. I have no health care and I have to pay to see my doctor $65 a visit just to get my blood pressure medicine and another doctor $60 just to get my anxiety medicine I have had to obtain since I was laid off.
I wasn't even able to afford my son and my grandbaby's Christmas gifts last year and cannot afford to send presents for their birthdays. He has done one tour already and re-enlisted because he knows he would not be able to find work if he left the Army. He is stationed in Grafenwhor, Germany. I have not seen them in 2 years. This is a shame.
What will it take for the government to wake up and help those who were hard working AMERICANS and want to be hard working AMERICANS working again??? God Help Us!
This is my story being unemployed for the past two years. I have always been an independent woman working since the age of 16, being responsible and raising a son on my own who will be 19 years old coming up in August 2010.
I was let go from my company on May 27, 2008, and still no job in sight. I no longer have been eligible for any unemployment benefits since February 16, 2010. I have had no income since that time. It is June 11, 2010, now and still no job insight and no income. The last 4 months depleted my savings because of zero income. Being unemployed has created a tremendous hardship financially and emotionally.
I no longer was able to make my house payment of approximately $500/month. I have had the mortgage for 17 years with never a late payment. Doesn't sound like much, but when you run totally out of money you cannot even pay the smallest payment. This is the first time I have been harassed by my mortgage company and it isn't any fun when you tell them over and over again that you are unable to make the payment. Your self-esteem is shot down while bills keep piling up.
I have searched for a job extensively. In the interview process, being an administrative assistant, they first call to give you a telephone interview, if you pass that, you receive a first physical interview, if you pass that, you receive a second physical interview and then you wait to see if you landed the job, while consistently applying for new open job postings. I have been told they receive 200 to 400 or more resumes for each single job that has been posted. I have tried for many jobs outside of my field as well, but because I have had no experience in that particular area I was not considered as they had more than enough candidates who have experience looking for a job.
I am an older woman who lost her job at the age of 49 and I am now 51. I have applied for at least a minimum of 3,000 jobs in two years time. I feel fortunate to have received interviews, but it doesn't change the fact that I haven't been given a job offer.
So, not only being reduced to poverty, this situation has caused me to develop high stress and anxiety wondering whether I will ever land a job. Also, you really find out who your friends are as so many people abandon you because you are not successful and refuse to believe that you haven't been able to get hired. People that are not in the situation have no idea or concept as to how bad it is to land a job in today's economic situation.
Being from Minnesota, Minnesota did not qualify for Tier IV either. I am no longer in the count for unemployment statistics either. So, the answer to the question, should there be a Tier V for all long-term unemployment individuals. The answer is definitely "YES".
I have been unemployed since November 2008 and have no prospects for employment.
I worked as an IT manager for a company for 30 years who moved our production facility overseas and has outsourced IT support to now be handled by the corporate facility in Tulsa, Okla. Our company once employed 130 and now is reduced to 35 through what is called a reduction in force program.
In an effort to see employment and to make myself more employable I have taken the following steps to enhance my chances of success.
Attended UMass Lowell College using my own money to finish my degree.
Attended Valley Works unemployment center seeking help in my jobs search.
Registered with an employment agency in Boston.
Registered with an employment agency in my home to of Acton.
Assisted in the development of a networking support group with my Church, Acton Congregational.
Posted my resume at several job-seeking websites.
Networking through Classmates.com.
Networking through LinkedIn.
Sent emails to all of my friends and former business associates asking for help.
As a result of these efforts for the last 19 months, I receive few responses form online submissions and the few I do receive seem to have eliminated the jobs posting or have found the posting to expire. I have done extensive job searching through USAJOBS.COM hoping to land a government job. Many of the positions require very specific talents or require a security clearance which one cannot acquire on their own.
Having to also pay for my health insurance which is required by law is depleting our savings. We are now taking the steps that we have feared for several months now by listing our house for sale in an effort to make ends meet. I am 54 years old and have worked hard all of my life and have never been out of a job. It's very difficult to look into my wife's and daughter's eyes and tell them that I'm doing everything I can to find work, but to no avail.
Please help me and others like me who are hardworking honest Americans trying to do the best we can. I know how great this country is and I'm confident that things will turn around but folks like me need help.
I could easily include my resume with this submission but let me not bore anyone with dates and details. Let me instead tell you that I have worked in the advertising and graphic design industry -- where I was a full-time freelancer in Tiffany & Co's in-house Advertising & Publications Dept. I was also a full-time freelancer at Great Scott Advertising, where I worked on Donald Trump's Trump Parc account. I saved both clients money with my expertise, yet none of this can be included on my resume because it goes back more than 15 years.
I also spent 17 years in the nonprofit industry, doing public relations work and fundraising. I met and spoke with celebrities such as Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Tony Bennett, Harvey Fierstein, the late Paul Winchell, and of course former President Bill Clinton.
How is it possible that someone with my experience and expertise cannot find a job -- any job? I have submitted resumes to every kind of position made known, from public relations director to receptionist, from manager of customer service at the ASPCA to shelter aide (4 p.m. to midnight shift) at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association's Women's Mental Health Shelter at the Park Avenue Armory, and many more. During an interview at a nonprofit last August I was asked by the organization's president why I would work for their "low salary." I replied that salaries in the corporate world might be higher but work in the non-profit industry is so much more rewarding. (I did not get the job.)
I became a "99er" the end of March 2010, when my benefits ran out. I have no savings left. All I am now living on is $898 in social security (the net amount after my monthly Medicare payments are deducted). The rent in my studio apartment of 41 years is $977.33, which is $75 more than my monthly social security. I am also on food stamps. I am no longer able to afford my co-pays or my prescription asthma medication, neither of which are generic, so I am doing without and hoping I won't be needing them. Adding insult to injury I had ovarian cancer surgery on September 29, 2009 and was unable to pay my $2,050 deductible (I was forced to appeal to 205 "friends" on Facebook to send me $10 each, and luckily received more than I asked for; the leftover funds had to be used to get me through the 6-week gap in UI benefit extensions from October through November). And just last week I got the surprising news that a colonoscopy I underwent on March 17th -- which is considered a routine preventative care exam and does not require a deductible -- will now be costing me $1,364.98 because a polyp was found and removed. I have no funds to pay for this. (What happened to Universal Health Care, by the way?)