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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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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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