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The Troubled Musings of a Soon-to-Be '99-Weeker'

I used to think of "99-weekers" - people who'd maxed out at 99 weeks of unemployment benefits - as sad, failed, almost tragic figures. What do I think now that I'm about to become one of them?

The day after New Year’s, I received “the letter.”  It was from the State of New Jersey, informing me that my unemployment benefits, including all extensions, are about to come to an end. 

I’m fortunate that I’ll be able to manage financially without unemployment benefits.  What I hated about getting that letter was that it was the real, official, formal confirmation that I’ve been unemployed for SO UNBELIEVABLY LONG.  The letter didn’t call me a “99-weeker,” but I know that’s what I’m about to become.  It's an unwanted milestone I never imagined I’d reach.

When I think about it – if I let myself think about it for too long – I do feel unhappy about being robbed by this prolonged recession/depression of my pre-retirement earnings years: years when I should be building up savings in my 401(k), increasing my pension, building my Social Security credits.  I’m upset, not about what I’ve lost currently, but about what’s been taken away from my future.

People in my age group, fellow Baby Boomers, got badly hurt back in 2008 when we saw huge chunks of our retirement nest eggs wiped out by the stock market crash.  We’ll never make that up, especially those of us who then went on to lose our jobs.  Instead we’ve been forced to dip into what’s left of our nest eggs much too early.

I can hear you saying, “Would you like a little cheese with your whine?”  No, this is not a pity party.  I realize and appreciate how lucky I am that I’ve been able to take these financial hits and still be OK.  My mortgage isn’t under water, I’m not in foreclosure, I don’t rely on food stamps. 

It’s just that I really expected that, by now, the economy would be better.  It should be, but it’s not.  I don’t believe that things are improving when the jobless rate ticks down a few points simply because people who’ve given up looking for work out of frustration and disillusionment are no longer counted as “unemployed.”  That’s just phony-baloney playing with the numbers, not economic growth.

I want to work.  I want to be independent and self-reliant and pay my own way in this world and still have something left to pass on to my son.  Then I hear on the radio that the President may be looking to institute some taxpayer-funded plan to decrease the size of people’s mortgages, to make our monthly payments smaller.  All I could think was, what’s the incentive for you to work, if you know that, sooner or later, the government (a/k/a your fellow taxpayers) will pay your bills for you?

I don’t feel this way, but I can see how some people might, especially people who’ve become accustomed to expecting “the government” to ensure that their needs are met.  They weren’t raised by the same kind of tough, resilient 1930s Depression survivors who raised us Boomers.

When I hear about more plans for government “freebies,” it makes me wonder if this is where we’re headed as a nation.  Are we creating a country in which the smaller number of people who do have jobs are required to subsidize the rest of us who don’t?  Instead of a prosperous country, will we leave our kids a chronically struggling one, where no one does too badly, but no one does too well either?

See, this is what happens when I let myself think about things too much.

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Kirby Ehret January 06, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I thought Obama was going to fix everything . I guess he was and is wrong .
Cj January 06, 2012 at 05:58 PM
You diehards need to understand this did not come from one party. The mess this country is in has been because every single politician that gets in office wants to do what they want regardless of who they hurt. They all stick together like kindergarten kids. This country is going down all because of them sticking together. NOt one has a mind of there own . Don't even go there about who did what. They have all done it and it just goes on and on until eventually we may have a revolution. I am beginning to think we need one.
Martin Golan January 06, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Wow! I've never been called a "partisan hack" before! I do not respond to tirades and name-calling, except to say this response does not deal with what I said.
Martin Golan January 06, 2012 at 06:13 PM
These programs were never intended to create a permanent underclass, but lend a helping hand to those who need it. If the programs have been mismanaged, or some folks cheat, that doesn't negate the principle of helping those in need. Before Social Security, families used to be seen begging on the streets -- some managed before that, it doesn't mean it's not worthwhile to help others. And as a I said before, anti-poverty programs are a tiny portion of the U.S. budget.
Fran Hopkins January 06, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Even though I've benefited from the 99 weeks personally, I believe that 99 weeks is too much. How can the debtor nation that we've become afford to pay people 99 weeks of unemployment benefits? If effective steps had been taken several years ago to actually unleash economic growth instead of restraining and stifling it, few would need these extensions.
hanginthere January 06, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Fran, if you were able to make it financially wihout unemployment benefits, then why did you apply? Sounds like you are a part of the problem.Most people who really need it cannot even survive on unemployment alone between housing costs, utilities, car expenses and health insurance- that is the incentive to find a job.
Fran Hopkins January 06, 2012 at 11:38 PM
What "problem" am I part of? Am I responsible for the fact that I was laid off? Have I created the conditions that are preventing rather than enabling our economy to recover? Yes, when I lost my job, I initiated a claim under the unemployment insurance program. I file medical claims under my health insurance and auto claims under my car insurance. I don't agree with the implication that my collecting unemployment insurance benefits deprived someone who needed them more.
Marty Wilson January 07, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Fran - I appreciate that you are laying it on the line here and letting everybody take your pot shots. Some could say - you shouldn't have received any of the 99 weeks since you have the financial means not to need it (per you 1st sentene, 2nd paragraph). Others have noted that 99 weeks is akin to the biggest anti-employment gesture by government ever. if you need a job, are you going to look for it while you are getting paid to sit on your tuchus. maybe, but not as hard as if you 'really' need to find a job. If you can't find a job, lower your expectations and work for less salary. if you can't afford to live where you are with the salary that you can make working in a job where somebody will hire you, you are living above your means. if everybody is living above their means, because the corrupt government is borrowing from our kids, our posterity to keep themselves in office and make us all feel good, well we deserve what we get. you are a whiner and a cheeser. get to work, save some money and stop your belly-aching. it seems like you can write in complete sentences, which puts you ahead of many other job applicants, go out and work, even if you don't have to.
Marty Wilson January 07, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Martin Martin Martin, you must never have heard about the law of unintended consequences. of course, a government bureaucrat doesn't say 'let's create a program which will discourage people from working and encourage them to sit on their butt." of course a government corruptocrat, doesn't say "let's encourage people to stop looking for work." but, that is what happens when the federal government tries to help, they inevitably fail. government programs are always mismanaged. name any one, just one that has worked the way it was supposed to. there are none. before social security, people used to save money for their future. after social security, people (suckers?) relied on the government for their retirement savings. the feds ponzied it away into their re-election campaign and lo and behold, Social security is a fiscal disaster. Anti-poverty programs (i.e. entitlements) are what is sinking us. Get the government out of our lives...or at least get the Federal government, the least efficient form of government, out of our lives...I hpe you agree.
Marty Wilson January 07, 2012 at 05:14 AM
let's vote out all incumbents D or R.
Marty Wilson January 07, 2012 at 05:18 AM
I agree with hanginthere. the government encouraged you to go on welfare even though you didn't have to. how sick is that? it's sick that you don't feel embarassed being on welfare when you don't have to. I guess we can't blame you because that is what the pols want - they want lemmings like you to suck on the entitlement teat and feel helpless and hopeless and thank those politicians for taking your money and giving it back to you while telling you how good they are. wake up, look in the mirror - there is a sucker looking right back at you. getting laid off is not the problem, we all do that. failure is ok. not everybody can succeed at every job. instead of getting back on your bike, the government says - take a siesta, feel pity for yourself, don't try too hard for the next 99 weeks, enjoy taking money from your kids (you do know that your kids - and all of ours - will be paying for your 99 week siesta, right). you are the problem, sorry if your readers have to break the news to you.
Fran Hopkins January 07, 2012 at 06:10 AM
Instead of misplacing your anger at me, why don't you get angry at the federal government whose policies are making it impossible for economic recovery to occur? They're the ones who are spending trillions of dollars of borrowed money to burden our children's future, not me. If you've been reading my blog all along, you would know that I haven't been taking a "siesta." In addition, the purpose of all insurance -- including unemployment insurance -- is to minimize the impact of a financial loss. So no, I am not ashamed about utilizing unemployment insurance for the purpose for which it's intended. I think we can all agree that we need to address the causes of our miserable economy, starting with a change of government in Washington in November. Maybe then, things will finally begin to improve for all of us.
Don January 07, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Some people would say that the increasing numbers of unemployed are creating a culture where its permissible to be unemployed for reasons other than extreme wealth. Whenever poverty becomes less humiliating that increases wages and generally makes it harder for some kinds of employers to make money.
Don January 07, 2012 at 02:50 PM
CJ, it did come from one party, because there IS only one Party. (Shhhh! Big secret!)
Don January 07, 2012 at 02:56 PM
401ks were just part of the general move towards trying to eliminate any kind of politician accountability for anything. Its the financial version of healthcare's ERISA. A deal for the financial firms in which they get almost free money in exchange for making it possible for politicians to blame them for everything.
Don January 07, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Actually, you are completely wrong on the effect of progressive taxation. The effect of progressive taxation is that in countries that have the most of it, it becomes easier for the truly resourceful to rise out of poverty, start businesses, etc. Here in the US, we may have the lowest taxes among the developed nations, but poor people almost never get wealthier and the rich people always stay rich, almost nomatter what they do. Middle class mobilty in the USA is increasingly downward. Dozens of studies show this. Click this link: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&q=social%20stratification%20oecd Poor people in countries like Denmark, Australia, Norway, Sweden, even Canada are much more likely to be able to get the education and amass the resources they need to climb out of poverty. In those countries, for the most part (except Canada) the wealthy pay FAR more taxes than we do. Also, measures of happiness show that even with the high taxes, the rich are happier there than here. And they feel less stressed.
Don January 07, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Thats basically Social Darwinism, Marty. And the US, is the birthplace of Social Darwinism, by all accounts. “The stronger has to rule and must not mate with the weaker” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. "Are you saying it's wrong for government to help those in need?" BTW, Edwin Black wrote a prize winning expose of the history of Social Darwinism and its roots in the USA. http://waragainsttheweak.com/ He says "It began on Long Island and ended at Auschwitz" (we wish!)
Don January 07, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Every man for himself, the Social Darwinists argue, is good. But even animals help each other. The smarter they are, the more they help. Otherwise, like the formerly middle class males who suffer in silence and are too macho to even ask for directions, their species vanish. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&q=altruism%20in%20animals The huge investment we have each made in our own educations is wasted if an entire nation's workers are allowed to fall off the map simply because of globalisms imperative to shift low skill labor intensive jobs to more profitable nations to allow our companies to offer more services to them in return.
Don January 07, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Poiticians dont have much they can change any more. They pretend they can, but our various agreements with the WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, ASEAN, etc, make it very limited what countries can do. For example, we have already committed long ago to privatize Medicare and other "monopoly service providers" like Social Security are basically against the whole spirit of globalization. They are seen as a taking of the entitlement to serve a market from corporations. Corporations pay good money for rights to our market and the governments steal them when they give poor people something that some of them might pay for. The concept of public education and affordable healthcare are vestiges of a past before globalization. When workers were powerful and could impact an entire business with a strike. For the last century and for the next 20 or 30 years at least, machines won't go on strike or ask for wage increases.
Don January 07, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Fran, are you seriously suggesting that the mean-spirited Republicans I see on TV would be an "improvement"? Have you ever looked at a graph of Federal deficit spending by year? The GOP administrations have been the ones that raised it SKY HIGH in an orgy of military spending. When Bush II got into office, I said to friends and they agreed, it was a given that we would be in a war within six months. I was around three months off, but basically lets face it, I was right. I'll make another prediction, if the GOP wins next November, we will be in World War III in six months. Previous wars were extremely profitable, the way to steal the most money, the quickest. But World War III will be different, as the costs of surviving it will be extreme. http://mineshaftgap.net/script.html
Jon January 08, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Don, you are the biggest joke. One, do you not remember 9/11? I don't care who was in office that day but I guarantee either party would have gone into Afghanistan. But that's all you like to talk about.. Bush this Bush that. And if you want to go back in the past lets really look at who started more wars. World War I - Woodrow Wilson, World War 2 - FDR, Korean War - Harry Truman, Vietnam - JFK. Yeah, they were all Democrats.
Jim January 08, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Unemployment benefit are taxed which I never understood and to me that makes a little onerous. I cannot imagine looking for work in the current climate. It is really tough or so I have heard. Good luck following the 99 weeks. You are going to need it. Did you get a chance to retool at all or get any additional credentials or training?
Marty Wilson January 08, 2012 at 05:56 PM
don, that is complete nonsense. higher progressive taxes act as a marginal tax wall against progress. if the government is giving you credit/subsidies/money, then every $ you make in the real world takes away a dollar of 'goverment income' you get for doing nothing. your marginal tax rate is 100% and people get very comfortable taking, not making. All the countries you mention have completely different demographics and cultures than us. in some countries, like the ones you mention, trusting the government comes a lot easier than it does for the average american. you don't mention if the rich there pay more $$, higher percent or higher percent of total ubcine taxes paid. I don't think it is all three.
Marty Wilson January 08, 2012 at 06:14 PM
fran - good point. and i agree with w your comment re: federal policies. except the 'insurance' you talk about is government speak for welfare. it is called insurance because of how you describe it. they want you to think it is something besides insurance. same thing with 'social security insurance' - it is a wealth transfer, nothing more. as for don, i'm not sure there are Democrats as well as Republicans who are taking all of our kids money and spending it in ways that gets them elected and leave our kids with an insurmountable burden. Stop being so partisan and realize that it is the Federal Government - both parties - which are harming all of us.
Marty Wilson January 08, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Don, we were in a war in 1993 (maybe earlier - 1979 ?), when al-qaeda attacked the WTC for the first time. Because Clinton didn't acknowledge that and other attacks against our embassies and our warships, we suffered more later. learn your history, it will help your discourse.
Fran Hopkins January 11, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Thank you, Portmanteau. I did earn a Master's degree, in Health Communication, during my "between jobs" time. I've continued to do volunteer and freelance writing and PR work to maintain my skills. I'm interviewing now for a position, so wish me luck!
Don January 13, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Marty Wilson, please read this paper: http://ftp.iza.org/dp1938.pdf You can read the abstract and a lot of links here: http://ideas.repec.org/p/iza/izadps/dp1938.html (Trade entitlements and corporate rule are a very bad omen for the future stability of the US.) Paper abstract: We develop methods and employ similar sample restrictions to analyse differences in intergenerational earnings mobility across the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. We examine earnings mobility among pairs of fathers and sons as well as fathers and daughters using both mobility matrices and regression and correlation coefficients. Our results suggest that all countries exhibit substantial earnings persistence across generations, but with statistically significant differences across countries. Mobility is lower in the U.S. than in the U.K., where it is lower again compared to the Nordic countries. Persistence is greatest in the tails of the distributions and tends to be particularly high in the upper tails: though in the U.S. this is reversed with a particularly high likelihood that sons of the poorest fathers will remain in the lowest earnings quintile. This is a challenge to the popular notion of ’American exceptionalism’. The U.S. also differs from the Nordic countries in its very low likelihood that sons of the highest earners will show downward ’longdistance’ mobility into the lowest earnings quintile. In this, the U.K. is more similar to the U.S..
Don January 13, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Marty Golan. The biggest entitlements are the trade entitlements that prohibit us from ever having affordable healthcare, that dictate privatization of healthcare and education so US corpos can get high profits overseas in exchange for US jobs. War takes half the budget.. As much as the next 10 nations combined. But you all already knew this, right? http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm They will even make a killing (literally) on the coming World War III. http://mineshaftgap.net/script.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sack_of_Rome_(410)
Don January 20, 2012 at 12:50 AM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_(folklore) A story for OUR TIME. Work harder!
Don January 20, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Technology is eliminating unskilled jobs pretty quickly, but many fields still have a few years, maybe even a decade or two, before the jobs for humans are all gone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law Whether its time for us to save enough for all our future decendents in the work-free future, its hard to say. Maybe our "descendants" will be human on the outside but actually, machines inside? Regardless, Its time to stop giving US companies tax breaks to ship those remaining jobs overseas. We need to do everything we can to keep people working for as long as possible. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204468004577167003809336394.html

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