When Unemployment Runs Out: Meet the 99ers

Millions of jobless Americans are out in the cold after exhausting their unemployment insurance. Now what?


On Unemployed Friends 2.0, a message board for people who have been out of work long enough to exhaust all emergency unemployment insurance -- "99ers," as some have taken to calling themselves -- users let off steam in the Venting Forum.

I am sooo tired of calling temp agencies week after week with no callbacks or results ... I'm burned out from over 2 years of this routine. --503Depressed

This feels like a permanent state. Even though I send out resumes, I don't really think anyone is going to call or that I will ever work again. --nfpexec

Been unemployed over 2 years, sent out resume to hundreds of jobs, 4 interviews and nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. --js123

Please don't give up, be good to yourself today, and try to stay positive. We are all in this together. You are not alone. --DesperateInRI 

Given the focus on spending cuts in Washington, one might think that America's unemployment problem was under control. But our jobs quandary is far from over, surpassing even the Great Depression in one respect: The gap between the number of people out of work (13.9 million) and the number of job openings (2.8 million) has never been so wide. Congress responded to these historically grim conditions in 2009 by extending unemployment benefits to an unprecedented 99 weeks. For many Americans, however, time is up, with no job in sight.

"We're in extraordinary times that break all the rules with respect to recovery," Gregg Rosen, co-founder of the American 99ers Union, told The Root. He explained that "99er" is a generalized term representing individuals who have exhausted all benefits up to 99 weeks, since the length of emergency unemployment insurance varied depending on the state. While the March jobs report (pdf) showed that nearly 1.9 million workers have been unemployed for the maximum 99 weeks (an increase of 127,000 from February), more than 6 million have actually reached the limit of their insurance.

With five unemployed workers for every job opening, their ranks are only growing.

Legislation to extend unemployment benefits for 99ers, introduced by two Congressional Black Caucus members, is being discussed, but the heavily opposed idea has made little headway. Meanwhile, as they drop off of Washington's radar, and as the Obama administration lauds an unemployment rate that edged down to 8.8 percent last month, millions of Americans in financial free fall can't help feeling effectively abandoned.

"One reason that [unemployment] number is going down is because once you become a 99er, you're no longer counted on the record as unemployed," said Rosen. "With respect to how the government collates the numbers, these people sort of just disappear."