There's a new club no one wants to join. It's the 99ers — people who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and still haven't found gainful employment. Long-term unemployment over 26 weeks is now at the highest level since 1948 — the year the data started to be collected. And this unfortunate club is growing. In response, America's safety net needs to be stronger.
Imagine the anxiety that must afflict those unemployed Americans who have been looking for work for nearly two years, have drained their bank accounts, are nearing the end of their unemployment benefits and face possible homelessness. According to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, more than 111,700 Floridians have now exhausted their unemployment benefits — more than the population of Clearwater. But political realities make it unlikely that help is on the way.
It took a knockdown fight by Democrats in the U.S. Senate recently to get federal programs for extended unemployment benefits restored so the jobless can expect 60 to 99 weeks of help, depending on the state's unemployment rate. Floridians can qualify for the full 99 weeks.
On jobs, Republicans have essentially abdicated their duty to work toward solutions. A measure to keep thousands of teachers in classrooms barely squeaked by the Senate on Thursday, drawing support from only two Republicans. The $26 billion in aid to states designates $10 billion to retain teachers — $554 million of which will flow to Florida, where it will undoubtedly save jobs. Much of the rest of the money will help states struggling with budget deficits due to soaring health expenses. This also is expected to save jobs. The bills are paid for by closing a business tax loophole and spending cuts, so they won't add to the deficit. The House is expected to approve the measure on Tuesday, but without much Republican support.
Even the kinds of jobs bills that Republicans typically endorse can't seem to get through a Senate riven with partisan animosities. Republicans have stymied a key initiative of President Barack Obama that would help small businesses gain access to credit so they can expand payroll. The legislation includes a $30 billion loan fund and $12 billion in tax breaks and other help. It will now have to wait until after the August recess for consideration.
But more measures are needed for desperate Americans who need to get back to work. Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal's Works Progress Administration put millions of Americans to work on public projects, easing the pain of the Great Depression. The $787 billion stimulus provided some of these kinds of projects, but not enough. Alternatively, jobless benefits can be extended further, until private sector hiring picks up. But people who can't find work can't simply be cast aside as the unfortunates of bad economic times.