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Prospects remain grim for the long-term unemployed

Photo: Flickr/b4b2

Updated: Late Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who are out of work. The issue will not be taken up again before the July 4th recess.

John Conley considers himself too young to retire, but too old to be hired.

Conley is 54 and once worked in the insurance industry making more than $100,000 a year. When he was laid off from his job in 2007, he thought that a year of severance would be more than enough to make it through to his next job, but he’s been unable to find work ever since. He says he has even tried to find a managerial job in a big chain store but he’s told he is overqualified and he believes he has three strikes against him: his age, his bad credit and the fact that there are now five job seekers for every one job.

“I’ve been down the’s of the Internet and nothing has really come through,” Conley says. “It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, so I continue to call and look and see what may be available.”

Conley is one of millions of Americans who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. “I am out and done and I accept that,” Conley told me. He lost his benefits in February 2010 and he says he has accepted that Congress probably will not create an extra tier of benefits for people like himself – the so-called “99ers” — those who have received the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

But Conley says he feels for those who are about to lose benefits this month. “What is hard to believe for me is the games Congress is playing with millions of people;s lives with the unemployment insurance extension bill. It’s so unfair to millions who have just gotten thrown in the system to have it shut down on them.”

The typical number of weeks that states provide for unemployment benefits is 26 weeks. Since July 2008, Congress has implemented federal emergency extensions to help people during this particularly tough recession. But those extensions ran out in May. And last week, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits yet again for millions of Americans who are out of work. According to the Hill, there is an effort to push a stand-alone extension of jobless benefits before the July 4 recess.

“If nothing passes, it will be absolutely devastating for those who have been unemployed for more than a year; it affects whether people can pay their rent and buy groceries, plain and simple,” says Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director of the National Law Employment Project. He believes that those benefits have helped local economies, as well.  “It will have a devastating effect on those economies hardest hit by unemployment. So if they pull the plug on unemployment benefits, then they are also pulling the plug on recovery.”

There is very real concern about long-term unemployment becoming a crisis that has reached every corner of American society. As Paul Krugman recently noted, current levels of unemployment in the U.S. “remain at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and show no sign of coming down rapidly.”

Nearly half of the 9.7 percent of unemployed Americans, about 6.8 million people, have been without work for six months or longer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest rate since World War II. And according to this analysis by the Pew Economic Policy Group, nearly a quarter of the nation’s 15 million unemployed workers have been jobless for a year or more. That percentage translates into 3.4 million people, roughly equivalent to the population of Connecticut.

And the future does not look bright: the National Employment Law Project projects that 1.63 million Americans will lose their benefits by the end of this week if the federal extensions are not renewed.

Meanwhile, it is unclear what will happen for “99ers” like Conley, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. For now, he gets by on his girlfriend’s modest nonprofit salary, which is barely more than minimum wage. And he says he spends his days calling friends for job leads and scouring employment websites. He doesn’t have enough money to relocate to a more affordable city, so he keeps hoping that the next day may bring good news on the job front.

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  • Sad Sad American

    6.8 million Americans who have been unemployed for over 27 weeks have been denied access to federal unemployment extensions. Some have been dumped already. The rest will be dumped as they reach the end of whatever tier they are on at present.
    Add to that number the 2-3 million Americans who have exhausted their 99 weeks and the 1-2 million Americans who didn’t get any benefits at all – independent contractors, small business owners who lost their businesses, etc. – and that’s a lot of Americans being thrown to the curb!!!
    The Republicans call us lazy, druggie deficits out of one side of their mouths and blast Obama because there are no jobs out of the other side.
    Let me see. We’re lazy because we won’t get a job, but there are no jobs? But if they take away our unemployment benefits we will be forced to take jobs. What jobs? Give me one. I’ll take it!
    The 4th of July will not be very joyful for over 11 million plus Americans stressing over how to feed their families.
    I’m so ashamed of America.

  • Cnote

    Someone who was capable of making a 100k a year should have backed some up….one of 2 things have occurred — this cat was mackin it hard and and spent way too much, or he’s lying. Only he knows for sure. I make this comment so when others see and read stories like this it can leave some doubt in their mind and say can we believe these people. Mmmm

  • Debbie

    Cnote, he was laid off iin 2007 – 3 years ago. If he were able to withdraw from a retirement acct. (ie 401K), there were probably huge penalties and taxes (depending upon the amount withdrawn). And some retirement accounts don’t allow you to make early withdrawals. However, in 3 years, these are probably all gone or darn close to it, just trying to pay for food, utilities (electric/water), rent/mtg., basic needs like laundry soap, bath soap, deodorant, toilet paper, etc.

    Most people don’t plan on having to do without for 3 whole years, and usually only save enough to survive for 6 months to a year at the most. And obviously a short news article cannot tell you the whole story!

  • Cnote

    If someone was telling you 6 months of savings, they were badly mistaken…the wise and responsible amount is much more than that in todays world…that 6 months if anything is a starting point It now gets filed in the lessons learned section, and they are now somewhat better informed for the next challenge.

  • Joe Doe

    I saved sufficient money for an extended unemployment scenario. Two years worth, but I have been out of work for 15 months as of now without any relief in sight. UE benefits are exhausted and I am burning through my savings. A daughter in college is a severe drain but what is the alternative give up on her future? If one of us is going to be eating dog food down the road but it won’t be because of her bad choices they were mine! I believed corporate lies; Wall Street promises of “based on past history” statistics and was complicit in allowing an unregulated, irresponsible corporate culture blessed by Congress and foisted on the American public. Republicans want to set up the death camps for citizenry kicked to the curb, so be it just tell me the location and the time.

  • jack

    You do not pick in a bad reccession whether a person who got 26 weeks and the ones in the start of a reccession at 99weeks do not get unemployment benefits. This is WRONG all the unemployed should get it no matter what the weeks they had. If unemployment rates is so extreme ALL should get it until jobs and the unemployment rate levels to normal. You can not do other spending without thinking of the American people first. What is wrong with this ? Do something right for once for all unemployed and extend this for one year if the so called economy is recoverying we will see it ! Do not hide, block , delay americans are aware of the politics. This not working together. Do something right for 99er’s and ALL Unemployed!


    When you stop and think how much money is wasted by our elected officials on a daily basis it blows my mind to think that the American worker is at the bottom of the barrell when it comes to priorties that need to be addressed in a time when a real need is on the table for millions of Americans struggling to get thru each day.
    Before my own financial problem I considered myself a life long Republican and I tuned in RUSH daily.All I can say now is that I wasted many votes over the years living thru a bad dream.I now know that the Republican Party only cares for you if you have money in your pocket. I also realize that their are millions of SLACKERS out there and it is unfaif for hard working American workers to be put in the same category as a slacker.
    In closing,Mr. or Mrs. elected official by the PEOPLE take a good look at youself and ask yourself one question what gives you the write to discriminate against your own people.

  • Pamela Midbon

    I think of the irony of the big bank bailout. $700 billion was given to big corporations like AIG, Goldman Sachs, CitiBank, etc. These were the same corporations that caused the financial meltdown. Because of their insane drive for profits, many people have lost their homes. But there is little relief for the common citizen. It’s crazy to bailout the big corporations and not extend unemployment benefits to people who are out of jobs through no fault of their own. Michael Moore says the United States is no longer a democracy but a plutocracy. You’d better believe it!

  • Paula Chilcoat

    It is time for everyone to wake up and smell the coffee. If you can afford coffee. It is very easy for the people in Washington (with a paycheck coming in) to say NO to an extension on unemployement. Those people do not live in the same world as the rest of us. They have no idea what it is like out here in the real world with food to buy, clothes to buy and no money. Maybe it would be best if they found out!!

  • KJ

    Most Americans aren’t getting the entire story. These extensions will help only those Americans who have 27-98 weeks of unemployment. Once we get to 99 weeks, the system drops us over the cliff like we don’t exist. There are millions of us out here who have been out of work so long that we have already exhausted our unemployment, even the federal extensions. We are called “exhaustees” or “99ers” and we are barely hanging on as it is. Please please please – we need a new bill that adds a Tier 5 or extends Tier 4. We have been cut off entirely, some of us for months. No extensions in the current bills being voted on will help us. Please don’t forget us – we are unemployed too – and even if you are helped by these new extensions that they’re trying to pass, you will eventually reach your 99 weeks too. please help us.

  • siestagator

    I have been in and out of the unenjoyment line so many times in the last 4 years I don’t qualify 4 a good job anymore. The jobs ads are now telling us not to bother to apply if we are unemployed. It hurts more because I completed my bus. degree part time at my expense (loans) and had a good job making 60-70 a year with very good reviews for 8 years and always dedicated to excelling where I was but when the industry goes down you go down too I guess. I don’t want anything else in my life but peace with what has happened but it is really hard to accept that our strong nation and economy is gone and seems it may not return to help those that really need and deserve it. I’m lucky in a way that I don’t have anyone that needs me 4 support but It is what we all could use now that it seems like our chance to escape this slow death is whithering again.

  • mc

    This is nothing unusual. Many Americans know for fact that this would be the situation.
    It did not happen overnight. This sluggish economy has been going on for quite sometime.
    Instead the network television news and entertainment media were busy telecasting their programs such as deal or no deal, dancing with stars, sports, etc.. only to get the higher ratings score.
    All those things are fine and are well appreciated when the economy is good. but certainly not when the economy is really bad.
    We must understand that it is too late to think about digging a well when somebody is thirsty.
    You have to have adequate water for an emergency.

    We cannot blame the politicians because we chose them and put them in the office.
    We started with the wrong key and now wonder why the music that followed was bad.

    All those Charitable Institutions such as Feed the Children, Salvation Army, United Way may work for some short duration but we cannot expect any major changes from those organizations. They make their living of their donations they receive from others. They can feed for 2 days, 5 days or one week but not for long.

    The only alternatives we have on hand and we can count on, are the educational institutions such as colleges and the universities. Only the Educational Institutions can make some major changes, offer some New Job Oriented Short-Term Courses to jump-start the economy. All the colleges and universities, both private and public, should work together and help the community as a whole.
    They should train or cross-train those looking for work and find them jobs they can do.
    This is a lot better in a way than waiting for the unemployment benefits check to arrive.

    Instead of increasing their Tuition Fees, these colleges and universities, should think about New Training Methods and assist both the Employers and the Employees finding solutions.

    It is sad that the major banks such as Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo Bank received
    $ 30 Billions from the Taxpayers in the form of huge Bailout but unfortunately none of these banks really help the genuine customers who need the basic loan.

    It clearly indicates that America is run by Big Corporations, not by Individuals. It has been like this for years and has not changed a little bit. And I don’t think it will.
    Like a Binary Operation, they do one of the two
    -Close or Open, In or Out, PASS or FAIL, True or False.
    They do either this or that but not both.
    It is always a ‘None of the above’ and not ‘All of the above’.

    But opportunities are still out there and only the Educational Institutions can help resolve this perpetual unemployment. All the Colleges and Universities, including the Community Colleges should come forward to offer Free Training and Assistance to every qualified applicant searching
    for New JOBS. Most schools are CLOSED for summer vacation. Let us make use of the School Campuses and put to good use for the Job Training, Seminar, Open House, etc…

    Let us look at the word NOWHERE.
    Same letters rearranged to read ‘NOW HERE’.
    We came from NOWHERE and we are NOW HERE.

    Another word IMPOSSIBLE can be rearranged – just a spacing – I’M POSSIBLE (I am positive and a possible candidate).

    We should MAKE things happen (the way we want).
    We should not LET things happen (the way it is).
    That is why we are suffering today.

    If the Colleges and Universities help the Community, I am confident that we can find jobs quicker.


  • Mike

    Give the people training?
    For what?
    That’s the problem – when there are no jobs available then all the training in the world won’t make a bit of difference if you can’t apply your new skills anywhere. About the only “growth” industry right now is health care. Unless you have the time, money, and desire to be trained as an RN or similar (not everyone would make a good RN) you’re pretty much out of luck in many areas of the country.

    To make matters worse, many employers are taking advantage of this downturn. My wife recently interviewed for a position that requires a BS degree and 5+ years experience. Then they offered her a position that pays less than $11 an hour with NO benefits for the first year. That would barly cover the cost of her driving 60 miles to work each day. And you can’t buy health insurance when you’re making $11 an hour either. Nice.

  • mc

    In a present day economy, keeping the present job or getting a new job and retaining is essential.
    In California, many State employees are going to get minimum wages $7.25 (I think it is correct).
    $11 an hour is certainly better than getting $7.25 an hour. Something is better than nothing.
    Americans are used to spending more than they could earn. Otherwise, why should there be so many Credit Cards and Charge Cards to American Consumers? There would not be so many Financial Institutions such as Banks, Savings & Loans, Credit Unions. But today most of the banks have disappeared. The remaining banks live on Financial Life Support. That is why the Big Bailout .
    How long do you think your car would run on credit?
    Billions of Dollars spent on War in Iraq and Afghanistan. Money is there but is spent elsewhere.

    If a drop of water falls in a lake, there is no identity.
    But if it falls on a leaf of lotus, it shines like a pearl.
    So we need to choose the best place where we can shine.

    We are facing real, day to day economic issues.

    We should never walk on the traveled path because it only leads us where the others have been.
    History repeats itself. If others failed, we will fail too.

  • John Conley

    @CNote, you must be a girl. I got divorced after being laid off. I lost most of everything I had in a time when I had no income. Lying? No, just bad timing and a very unjust legal system that awards 1/2 of everthing one paid for for someone who’s done nothing but gets the award because she’s a she. Must be nice to get paid to exist!

  • Stevie

    This is the modern day version of “Let them eat cake.”

    I listened to Republican US Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona being interviewed by Fox News saying that his advocacy of deficit busting financing of over 600 billion in tax cuts for those making over $200,000 annually was not hypocrisy despite his opposition to deficit financing of an extention in unemployment comp costing somewhat in excess of 30 billion.

    The American voter stands willing and ready to reward this sort of nonsense in November, which presents them the trophy for the World Cup of selfish self deceit.

  • mc

    I don’t think unemployment ratios have changed. There are many who are still unemployed or looking for work. There are a few who cannot work but live off of their disability income. Many men and women who could work do not have jobs. They stay with their parents since their parents get Social Security and other Investment Income. It is really sad to know even professionals such as doctors, nurses, accountants are not gainfully employed.
    At this rate, no one can retire now. Many men and women have to work until they are totally disabled or cannot work.
    And we call this country a land of opportunity?

  • get real

    The 99ers have been considered the parasites feeding off of road kill. Not only by those still employed through their inner fear they could become one of us—-but the current unemployed who will certainly become one of us.
    I ask of you skeptics, when someone calls or visits YOUR place of employment and asks if you are accepting applications for employment…exactly WHAT is your response? The answer tells the truth.
    And if truth be told, the answer is no.
    Those being helped through this 4213 bill, will be falling off of those tiers, to become 99ers…millions before elections.
    Yet the politicians are trying to BUY your votes, by extending them JUST THROUGH NOvember. Elections are????????????
    THEN not only the 99ers, but the unemployed in whole, will be SOL.
    Unemployment in today’s economy, should extend until the unemployment figures are under 6.5%.
    This would not only extend a life line to the unemployed, but enable them to pay their bills, to keep those still employed, employed. If they are continuously denied benefits, YOUR job WILL be affected. Even if you work for your relatives.
    Gulf residents=BP PAY THEM NOW! It has been a month.
    Unemployed with tiers=PAY THEM NOW! Stop being heartless, they have not seen help for 2 months.
    99ers=go to hell……no help for SEVERAL MONTHS!!!!
    The 99ers will be waiting with sharp pitch forks, for the rest of you.
    We helped you….yet you said F@#$% You, to us.
    We will hang our WELCOME sign.

  • mc

    Those who are unemployed or under-employed and looking for work can look for some training and still find jobs. That is not an issue; what really bothers everyone is the news about the City of Bell. Bell City Mayor makes so much? And it happens only in America. How in the world could something like this happen? A part-time staff from City of Bell making $800,000 a year? You can imagine how much a Full Time staff should be getting from the same City. When the City of Bell can make this much, it is time to investigate other cities and counties such as Los Angeles.

    Who has the authority? Who is Accountable? It is unbelievable.

  • Tom

    Mc if you do not wake up you will find it hard to find work. Jobs today do not support a basic living. Jobs they offer you they are trying to push to poverty! Wake up and stop believing Republican politicians. You will be living in a box if you keep this up !

  • mc

    The news is:

    “Consumer spending, usually the lifeblood of economic activity, slowed in the second quarter”

    It has been like this for every quarter, not just the second quarter.

    As one Economic Advisor put it ‘The economy is growing but not enough to make most Americans happy. At this weak pace, it will take more time than many hoped for people to really feel the benefits of this upturn’.

    Uncertainty is looming all over the place. Americans have no money to spend. How can you talk about spending when most Americans are literally starving?

    We don’t see any encouraging signs in terms of business spending. What happened in the City of Bell is still bothering many American Taxpayers. Like the City of Bell, we don’t know how many officials, council members and employees from other cities are abusing and misusing their position

    I have not come across anyone telling me that they got job from the or craigslist.

    This November Election can give some real solutions to complex problems. Let us hope that it does