When Unemployment Runs Out: Meet the 99ers
Millions of jobless Americans are out in the cold after exhausting their unemployment insurance. Now what?
"There is no economic literature that says, 'X is the magic number of weeks,' " said Shierholz. "But for the past two years, there have been five or more unemployed workers for every job opening. There have been literally no jobs."
Rosen emphatically agrees that extending unemployment insurance benefits is just common sense. "This is not about emotion or being the morally right thing to do," he said. "It's economically the sound thing to do in this country."
A Glimmer of Hope
At least some members of Congress agree that unemployment benefits for 99ers should be extended. In February, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act, which would extend emergency insurance for 14 weeks for workers who have exhausted all their benefits. So far the bill has 78 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
After rattling off the economic benefits, Scott said that unemployment insurance is exactly for times like these. "Every time in the past, when we've been in this situation of having long-term unemployment and the jobs aren't there, we have routinely extended unemployment compensation benefits as an emergency. This has always been the case," he told The Root. "Another problem is that employers are more likely to hire people who are still working, so when you've been out of work for a long time, it's even harder to get the few jobs that are available."
Scott and Lee are working to schedule a meeting this week with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about their 99ers bill. Scott declined to predict what the outcome may be.
"My job is to make the case, and hopefully they'll recognize that a lot of people in this situation are hurting and that this is a cost-effective thing we can do," he said.
Rosen, who supports the legislation and appeared at the press conference announcing it, also remains hopeful despite less-than-promising signs. Last December, as Congress wrestled over extending the filing deadline to allow more Americans longer unemployment insurance, most Republicans, now the House majority, were against the idea. That extension excluded 99ers and came as part of a deal with the president, a deal that spent more than $800 billion to extend tax cuts for two years for the wealthiest Americans.
"Time and time again, they would talk about the future," he said, referring to right-wing fearmongering about America's children being saddled with the deficit. "We have to bring people back to reality and get them to stop looking to the future. Look at today. Because if people can't afford to keep a roof over their children's heads, feed them or otherwise provide for them today -- they're not going to have a future."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.