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With Unemployment Benefits Expiring Again Tomorrow, a Look at the 99ers

Tomorrow, the federal backing for some unemployment benefits will expire, with Congress away until next week. That means another wave of Americans will lose their benefits, extended in a series of emergency spending packages as part of the stimulus. Congress can retroactively fund the benefits — but the fight for deficit expenses will only get harder, and it looks highly unlikely that Congress will approve a new tier of benefits, despite the unemployment rate and job seeker-to-jobs ratio, both of which have stabilized at high levels.

The 99ers, who have exhausted the maximum number of weeks of benefits, are out of luck. They are a growing class — they could total a million this year — and one that remains broadly stigmatized. But, as this excellent five-part piece from Megan Cottrell at Change.org shows, oftentimes 99ers are simply unlucky: trained to work in shrinking industries, tied to particular locations by mortgages or families, overqualified for the positions available.

The fact that she’s been unemployed for over two years is still shocking to Yvonne. She started working at 15 years old and has decades of experience in administration, including work at a movie studio, a major university, a biomedical engineering company and more. But since she was laid off from her job as an executive assistant at a local union in 2007, she can count the number of temp jobs she’s gotten on one hand.

She spends her days reading the Bible and learning the latest software to keep her resume current. Right now, she’s mastering Windows 7 and the latest Microsoft Office.

“It never occurred to me that at my age now I would have no benefits, no pension, and be totally unemployed and virtually unable to reenter the workforce,” she said. “There is a very good chance that a lot of us in our 40s and 50s will never be gainfully employed again.”

Catherine Rampell highlighted the phenomenon in The New York Times as well. For many, the recession has not just left them unemployed, but their skills obsolete, their former salaries untenable in a tentatively recovering economy and their employment prospects dim.

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