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The ’99ers’ Share Their Stories

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 some 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 worse.

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 read more of the letters, read this full entry over on Paul Solman’s Business Desk blog.

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