Thursday, December 23, 2010

After 99 Weeks - Left Out In The Cold At Christmas

I want to a write a nice cheery post today. I really do. I want to focus on cookies and baking. It's almost Christmas after all.

But when I tried to write-up my post about my dinner club's latest meal, or ginger cookies that I just baked,  I couldn't do it. I can't write a food post today. Or a happy post. So this post is what's really on my mind right now.

I just read an article about the economy getting better. It does seem like things are improving in many ways, but there is a looong way to go. The part of the article in particular that really got to me is below.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits edged down by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000, the Labor Department said. That was the second drop in three weeks.

The problem with numbers like this is that they don't tell the whole story. Most people think that anyone who is unemployed was helped by the recent extension of unemployment benefits. It's not true.

Anyone who is a 99er, or someone who has been unemployed for over 99 weeks is not helped at all by the latest extension. The extension only covers those who've been unemployed for less than 99 weeks. Legislation that would have helped those out of work for more than 99 weeks appears to be dead.

NPR's On Point had a recent show about the long-term unemployed. It was very informative. And very sad. 60 Minutes did a show on 99ers too. But overall, when it comes to real action to help, they seem to be forgotten.

And even worse, the exact number of 99ers is not known, at least on a national level. Some states are keeping track. Michigan is keeping track and the reported number was 162,000. But that's only one state. And the number grows every day as new people fall off the list of those being counted as unemployed.

When we hear that less people filed for unemployment this week, sometimes it's because many hit 99 weeks or whatever the maximum was for that state. A number of people who are still without jobs are just no longer being counted. How many people in this country are truly unemployed?

Even though many of us, me included, want to be positive about the economy, the unemployment situation is very bad. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is even changing the way they collect data on unemployment duration. Respondents to the Current Population Survey used to only be allowed to report unemployment up to 2 years. Starting next month, up to 5 years of unemployment will be allowed to be reported. See a portion of the document announcing the change below.

There has been an unprecedented rise in the number of persons with very long durations of unemployment during the recent labor market downturn. Nearly 10 percent of unemployed persons had been looking for work for about 2 years or more in the third quarter of 2010. Because of this increase, BLS and the Census Bureau are updating the CPS instrument to accept reported unemployment durations of up to 5 years. This upper bound was selected to allow reporting of considerably longer durations while limiting the effect of erroneous extreme values (outliers). ...

Because of the existing upper limit, BLS cannot determine how many individuals currently have unemployment durations of longer than 2 years. However, given the historically large number of persons classified as unemployed for very long periods, it seems likely that at least some of these individuals may have been unemployed for significantly longer periods than 2 years.

This suggests that current BLS measures of average (mean) duration of unemployment may understate the "true" average duration by some amount, and that increasing the upper limit for reported duration may result in a higher average (mean) duration of unemployment. Only the average (mean) duration of unemployment will be affected in any substantive way by this change in data collection. The median duration of unemployment will not be affected by this change, nor will distributions of unemployment by weeks unemployed.
When the government itself acknowledges that unemployment for more than two years has become so common that they have to change their data collection practices, it seems to add even more reason to consider helping the 99ers. These are not lazy people who don't want to work. There are less jobs than there used to be and more people. The population is not decreasing. Plus people live longer and work longer.

Many people who are unemployed are over 40. I've seen the issue of age come up in so many articles and programs. Articles like this one talk about the rebound in hiring.  But the people being hired are under 40. Did you see Frontline: Close To Home? Many of the unemployed are middle aged.

Reading some of the comments in a different article about a woman over 40 seeking work were just mean. Several commented on her age, that she needed a facelift, etc. But are these real factors causing people not to be hired? Do we all have to be young and beautiful to get a job now?

Christmas Eve is tomorrow. But many adults will be asking Santa for a job. As of today, there's even a 99er's version of Santa Baby. The video is rather uneventful, but the words say it all. It looks like it may take Jon Stewart to get something done.

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Disclaimer: Nothing stated on Anali's First Amendment should be construed as legal advice. No attorney client relationships have been formed on this blog. © 2006-2016. Anali's First Amendment/Lisa C. Johnson. All rights reserved. Do not use writing or photographs without permission.