More on 99ers: Reactions and Stories

BY Business Desk  August 17, 2010 at 6:31 PM EDT

Paul Solman: With our story on the 99ers still up there among the “most watched” NewsHour stories more than a week after it ran, it seemed fitting to share another set of reactions to the story and the issue. After reading what’s posted below, you may well wonder: IS UI a disincentive or ISN’T it? The answer is probably sometimes it is, especially if it goes on for a really long time. In the current U.S. economy, however, a long time may well be longer than 99 weeks.

The first letter comes from investment advisor Jon Shayne, aka Merle Hazard.

Paul, I have been absorbing and learning from your coverage of the 99ers.

In case you haven’t seen it already, I am sending along a good piece today from the Economix blog at the NYT on data from Denmark on unemployment insurance. Basically it is data that shows, or at least seems to show, that some people (maybe 14%, maybe 25%, depending on how you read the graph) really do hang on without looking for work, until benefits run out. I.e. that there is a disincentive issue.

Tough problem…how do we help those who need help, without disincentivizing those who don’t? I have no idea what the solution is but I might want to live in Denmark if I were out of work (they have job training benefits, etc). Though Denmark is cutting benefits from 4 years to 2, which puts them at 104 weeks compared to 99 here. Their unemployment rate is much lower than ours; perhaps they would not be cutting benefits if the problem were as bad as it is here.

Here is the data…if it’s accurate, pretty interesting.

I just wanted to thank you for your NewsHour piece called “99ers.” I’m one of the 99ers and I’ve felt many of the same emotions and frustrations you pointed out in the piece. I also wanted to point out that I’m very greatful for every extra week of extended benefits I was able to receive. Due to the government’s intervention. I was able to buy my parents a Christmas gifts last year! I too was cut off of benefits earlier this year and have lost my small savings. No one likes to admit they need assistance, and the stigma of unemployment can be weighty.

Thanks again for shedding light on folks like me who want to contribute to their local economies, and could use more help through this tough economic transition.


I am 44 years old and worked all of my adult life until now. I worked as a restaurant manager for fourteen years and served in the United States Marines Corps for eleven years. I have been unemployed for almost two year and my employment benefit has stopped on 3rd June 2010. This was not a paid vacation for me or for the many Americans who are in the same situation, because the benefit you received from unemployment is only a fraction of what you made when you were employed.

I went back to school (online) to completed an AAS degree in Information Technology and still cannot find employment. Meanwhile my credit score went down, I had to sell my car to get money to pay for my bills and my other car is in the process of being repossessed. If I cannot come up with the money for this month rent I will be homeless by next month. This is not a game for me; I am not looking for a handout but for a job, unfortunately the economy cannot create. The difficult times we are facing are real live situations that most of the unemployed face every day.

WE ARE NOT LAZY! 99ers are people that have been holding down steady jobs for years that cannot find employment due to bad economics that was created NOT BY US, but by corporate greed and lack of supervision from the previous administration. Saying that giving long term unemployment benefit will only create a disincentive for job seekers is something that you will learn from a text book written ten years ago. Times have changed and this is not the same economy that was there ten years ago. The president had recently stated that the economy is steadily growing at 2.4% when last year it was 5% growth on the GDP. This is all political Hogwash, 5% growth from the previous year and a 2.4% growth is a decrease, not an increase. President Obama you have already gained our trust, so don’t blow it and give us an upside down 6, saying it’s a 9.

We 99ers are productive citizens that have been contributing to our country’s prosperity for years. Employers paid for the employment benefit and taxpayers (including 99ers) will contribute towards this extension. If the government cannot figure out how to pay for this 20 weeks extension take it out from our social security benefit we have been contributing to this fund for years. PS it only a drop in the bucket just like the 99ers.

I am a 99er there is know way they will extend for the 99ers I have resumes out there having a hard time finding a job I have not had a check since March all my bills are behind.Please rethink about giving another extension.

I have been a 99er since march 30th 2010. I am homeless and eat each day in the soup kitchens. Before my Unemployment ran out I sent out many Resumes, however because of my age 60 years, I cannot find work, No one wants to hire an out of work 60 year old that has been unemployed for over 2 years. Did I also say that I am an african American Male….hummm.

Why would one ever much let the man that had used up his unemployment be the example for all the poor people who have used up all their unemployment and still have not found jobs!

He had the nerve to sit in his nice home, with a flat screen TV, fancy computer, looking very well fed and complain that the government lost no time sending aid to Haiti and could not even let him continue to get more hand-outs from the government.

There must be be thousands of more people whose plights would be more worthy of your broadcast time.

I watched your Friday story about 99ers and while I completely sympathized with Faith Phillips and her plight, I honestly don’t understand why you’d use Gregg Rosen as a spokesman for the 99ers. I kept looking in the background as you interviewed him, at his huge flatscreen TV and expensive computer and all the collectibles he had lying around. Yet he kept saying how destitute he is. So why doesn’t he downscale a bit, sell off his expensive stuff, get a cheaper place? He didn’t seem to be supporting a family. The feeling I got from him is that he feels entitled to his upscale lifestyle and blames everyone but himself for being out of work. Frankly, with that attitude, I wouldn’t hire him.

To put my comment in perspective, I had to go part-time in the late 90s to be a caregiver to my parents. I’m single and 54, and I gross about $12,000 a year, half of which goes to healthcare. I supplement my income by doing some writing and freelance teaching. I dip into my savings a lot. I live simply. But I’m not looking for a fulltime job because I know I can get by for now, and so many other people who are supporting families need those jobs worse than I do.

I’m not unhappy being what most folks would consider poor.

Mr. Rosen needs to get a life.

With the exception of a very few, people need safety nets to insulate themselves and their families from the danger of the extreme maladies of life from natural and economic catastrophe or accident, illness, and the like. Any American with insurance implicitly recognizes this truth. All can see the need from some part of their personal experience, from looking at the news, or from considering our culture and history, perhaps a story by Dickens for urban dwellers, or by Twain or Steinbeck for those in rural areas, assuming Americans only identify with those who have a closely similar personal experience, if that sad step is needed.

Savings and assistance from family and friends are only helpful up to a point, a fact which was certainly well considered in the provision of unemployment insurance. During good times, unemployment insurance actually improves economic efficiency and increases GDP by creating liquidity for a highly illiquid economic input, which is nice. But unemployment insurance is critically important during an economic downturn, and was created precisely for that purpose, precisely for the people who you highlight in your excellent story. It is unconscionable, therefore, that people who have purchased that insurance with deductions from every paycheck should be cut off in their time of greatest need, that severest need the program was designed to address.

Nor is it acceptable to claim that the money needed is not there, because those paycheck deductions amply funded the need over the years, but were simply siphoned off to the general funds for the benefit of public as a whole. That same public now turns their back on their most desperate neighbors, neighbors who trusted their nation and paid into the system without objection as a task of good citizenship, and who we all promised in return would not be forgotten.

It is not America’s finest hour when the investment these Americans made in their country with their blood and toil, and insurance payments, is repaid with greed, avarice and cupidity. That is not overstating the measure of the collective sin where the public withholds the benefit secured by those insurance payments, payments made to address the specific shared risk that has come to fruition, but that the nation now chooses to ignore.

Finally, perhaps the partisan nature of the debate suggests illustrating the shame by identifying it with one more sin. J. Wellington Wimpy, the famous cartoon glutton of Depression-era America often said: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” An obese America has eaten the hamburgers of 4 million of its unemployed neighbors. Is America a proud nation which keeps its promises to its citizens, or a glutton conning its citizens to pay, only to abscond looking to satiate its gluttony elsewhere?

We have two college educated children in their late 30’s who were laid off, one more than 95 weeks ago and thank God he just got a job this week right before his unemployment was to end. The salary isn’t what he was making but like someone said to find a job in this economy is like winning the lottery.

Now we worry about our daughter finding work before her unemployment runs out.
In these hard times the US Government should extend unemployment and do the right thing for it’s citizen’s that are trying so hard to find work and contribute to this country. Now is not the time to abandon.

Please continue reporting on this story. The ’99ers’ need their trials and tribulations thrown in the faces of those unaware on a continual basis. They need advocates to expose the heartless actions (more precisely inactions, when speaking of the Government) and opinions of those in power. Or, by those who believe their credentials should not be questioned; that they know what is best for anyone and everyone; and believe they prove, merely by opening their mouths, that they are more intelligent than those individuals suffering this hardship day after miserable day.

Please press the question of the supporting data/study(ies) surrounding the “disincentive of unemployment compensation”. I have heard reference to this notion numerous times but, HAVE NOT SEEN OR HEARD ONCE any specifics. When? Where? What are the numbers/percentages? Why/how does extending benefits provide a disincentive to work? How does it relate to this present multi-generational economic event? If legitimate irrefutable evidence and data can not be given, then such suggestion of a disencentive is baseless. Unfortunately, this ideal is now being touted as gospel and has become in vogue and socially acceptable to use to chastise, humiliate, and in instances discriminate against those caught in the nightmare of long term unemployment.

In your pieces, Mr. Rosen explains very simply why the disincentive theory is nonsense. As many other ’99ers’are aware, it is simple and logical reasoning that practically all jobs paying more than the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr.) will leave them better off than relying on the approximately $300 state average weekly benefit. And, practically all jobs require a level of academic and professional credentials, along with experience, well beyond that of minimum-wage employment. And, employers do pay for those levels of higher requirements. From those standpoints, it makes absolutely NO SENSE to NOT seek employment paying better than a pawltry benefit amount. Even jobs at a rate of just $10.50/hr. pay better than the state average maximum allowable weekly benefit.

If people are not looking for work, is it maybe because there is another issue at hand? As in – THERE ARE NO JOBS!!! Is that why people are offering to work for $5.00/hr.? You can find them in the “Resume” section on Craigslist all the time. Or, could there be a deeper issue? Could some people actually be in a depression (not merely a mental recession)? If so, why isn’t that situation handled with the consideration and compassion it deserves? And, why are the long term unemployed made to feel that it’s their own fault? Why do others, including our elected leaders (some specific men and women in Congress most notably), reguritate baseless defamatory comments to make those unemployed feel useless and unworthy? By the way, is it just me or has the Administration and Congress not seemed to have the sense of urgency that many others have called for over the last two years regarding job generation? ’99ers’ needed a job yesterday so they could have money today to avoid going on welfare tomorrow. Tomorrow is now today and the first two items haven’t happened for the ’99ers’.

Also, please include previous bouts with high unemployment and those instances where unemployment benefits were extended for longer than 99 weeks.

The ’99ers’ are real breathing people who are in fear because they can not find work. And, are day by day falling further and further into an abyss. They have no job. Many have no more money. Every day more of them are becoming homeless. Their only salvation is welfare. But, once on welfare and as they have lost everything else, it will be much longer and cost society much more if they are ever to become working productive citizens again. And, who’s not to say how long until that lifeline is considered too much of an expense on the rest of society. Leading to a conclusion that “those people” are expenable and forgetable and should not receive any further help.

Please Mr. Solman, on behalf of all ’99ers’, I implore you to make the facts (not theories, conjecture or hearsay) known to all. Their elected officals, who they expected to be their advocates, have summarily dismissed them or mislead them. This I have witnessed firsthand. Their resources are limited. They can not afford lobbyists to organize and speak on their behalf. But, they have one thing in common with all individuals, employed or not. They need someone to care for them. They need a champion!