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I’ve Got 99 Weeks of Unemployment, And Also a Lot of Problems

By Matthew Yglesias  

"I’ve Got 99 Weeks of Unemployment, And Also a Lot of Problems"

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With long-term unemployment surging to unprecedented highs, Annie Lowrey takes a look at the plight of those facing expiration of Unemployment Insurance as they head up against the 99 week mark:

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Paoletti and other 99ers are afflicted by a constellation of problems. Many are underwater on their mortgages, meaning they cannot sell their homes and move away. Many are “structurally unemployed,” meaning that demand for their now-obsolete skills will not tick back up as the recession eases. And many have deep ties to their communities, and cannot or will not move for another job. For instance, Paoletti’s father recently passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s; she helped care for him until his death. Her brother (also unemployed for years now) lives nearby, and her daughter — who moved home when she lost her job, and just found work decorating cakes part-time at a grocery store — lives with her.

The million 99ers like Paoletti do not just struggle with the immediate effects of joblessness — including, in many cases, the slide from the middle class into poverty. They also struggle with the lingering deleterious effects. The longer people are unemployed, the harder it is for them to regain a job. Their skills deteriorate. They tend to lose confidence, become depressed and suffer from higher rates of divorce and suicide.

Of course, by extending eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits we can do some good for these people and also some good for the broader economy.

But UI forever and ever isn’t the best way to redress these issues which, as Lowrey makes clear, begin but do not end with purely monetary issues. Not having money is bad. But joblessness has deeper consequences than that, including the fact that the longer you stay out of the labor market the harder it is to get back in even if overall demand picks up. Many employers, it seems, don’t want to hire unemployed people and the psychological toll of idleness and lost confidence in terms of depression and the like is quite high. It’d probably be more expensive to mount a real jobs program—like a program where you show up somewhere and they give you a job—than to simply keep extending UI, but it’d be better to establish something for folks who’ve been out of a job for over a year where we actually employ them doing something. We should give Paoletti money, and we should also give her something to do. It just can’t be that there’s absolutely nothing of public use that could be done in-or-around Salina, New York.

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