When President Barack Obama addressed the special joint session of Congress on September 8, there was little to no chance that he would mention the 99ers. Although he was addressing the economy, unemployment, and his plan to spur job growth in the coming year, he left that segment of the unemployed population out. But in the omission, Obama was no different than most politicians. Washington has been very stingy with time allotted to even mentioning the long-term unemployed (those who have been without a job for a minimum of 26 weeks, the traditional number of weeks afforded recipients of unemployment benefits), almost as if the mere mention of people who have been without work for 99 weeks or longer could cause some kind of cascade effect or job-loss epidemic. And legislation regarding 99ers? Almost completely nonexistent. So an acknowledgement by the president was not to be expected.
What was expected -- and stated -- was s a call for Congress to pass legislation that would reauthorize the current emergency and extended unemployment benefits that expire in December. There were also provisions within the American Jobs Act, which was subsequently delivered to Congress, to extend tax cuts and exercise spending cuts of over $300 billion in an effort to spur job growth. One provision calls for an extension of the current payroll tax rate, which is at 4.2 percent (as opposed to the pre-cut rate of 6.2 percent). Another is an incentive program to offer tax breaks to employers that hire.
But those who have been out of work since 2009, those who were gainfully employed until 2009 and became unemployed through no fault of their own (one cannot receive benefits if one is fired or quits one's job) and cannot find employment, will not be mentioned.
To be fair to President Obama, Republicans would be even less likely to mention the unemployed in any capacity, given the party's strident efforts to defund the extended benefits programs in the past. And with the advent of the influence of the tea party movement within their ranks, sympathy toward the plight of the long-term unemployed has been nearly nullified.
It might be difficult for many to recall exactly who the 99ers are, given the media's transient interest in the constantly altering sub-population within massive numbers of the jobless. One does not hear much about the 99ers anymore, their calls for relief relegated to the specialized blogs, Arthur Delaney's Huffington Post chronicles of the long-term unemployed, the occasional mainstream media human interest story, and the occasional shout-out from MSNBC's Ed Schultz. To reintroduce: 99ers are the long-term unemployed who have fallen from the unemployment roles, their regular unemployment benefits and the extended and emergency benefits (which in some states enhance regular jobless benefits up to 99 total weeks, hence the moniker "99er") exhausted with scant prospects of employment opportunities increasing in the near future. They are a growing population that very well could climb precipitously at the beginning of the new year, their millions only kept at bay by another reauthorization of extended benefits.
It is to prevent such a precipitous rise that the president will introduce legislation for the reauthorization of unemployment extensions, which are embodied in a four-part Tier system, their method of dispersal dependent upon the states themselves.
At present, the number of 99ers, at least according to official government estimates that are available upon request from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (per Lila Shapiro at Huffington Post, because the data is not available with the regularly reported Department of Labor statistics), stands at 2.04 million individuals, up from 2.01 million in July. But the numbers that make the figures even more disturbing than they already are rests with the numbers of unemployed that are currently in the long-term category -- over 6 million. And those 6 million are apart from the official count.
Unofficial estimates of 99ers range anywhere from 2-6 million, depending upon the source.
For those numbers to stay at around 2.04 million officially, unemployment benefits extensions will have to be reauthorized. Failure to do so will only create more 99ers sooner than later.
Congress will have a decision to make before year's end.
At present, there are no active legislative measures scheduled for introduction or consideration designed to aid 99ers.
(photo credit: U. S. Congress, Wikimedia Commons)