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Unemployed Americans Search for 'Lifeline' Until Jobs Return

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Carla Babb

Unemployed workers in the United States are eligible for up to 99 weeks of government-provided financial assistance. Those who have used up their benefits call themselves "99ers" in reference to this limit. VOA's Carla Babb reports on how one 99er is struggling to survive with absolutely no income.

Gregg Rosen lost his job as a sales manager nearly three years ago and is still unemployed.

"It literally is like something in a dream, to remember what it's like to actually be able to go out, and put in a day's work and receive a day's pay," he said.

At first, Rosen bought groceries and made house payments with the help from unemployment insurance. It pays laid off workers up to half of their previous wages while they look for work. But now, that insurance has run out for him, and he has to make tough choices. He's cut back on medications and he no longer helps support his disabled mother.

"That devastates me," said Rosen.

New research says the U.S. recession is now over, but many people remain unemployed. Economist Heidi Shierholtz says unemployed workers face impossible odds.

"There is literally only one job opening for every five unemployed workers, so four out of five unemployed workers have actually no chance of finding a new job," said Shierholtz.

Businesses have downsized or shut down on main streets across America, leaving fewer job opportunities for those in search of work.  Experts here in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, say about 28,000 people are out of work, and many are jobless due to no fault of their own.

That's where the Bucks County CareerLink and the county's Work Investment Board come in.  Local director Elizabeth Walsh says they provide training and guidance to help unemployed workers find local job opportunities.

"So here's the job opening, here's the job seeker, match them together under one roof," said Walsh.

But she says the lack of work opportunities in Bucks County limits how much she can help.

Rosen says he hopes Congress will take action.  

This month he launched the 99ers Union, an umbrella organization of 18 Internet-based grassroots groups of 99ers.  Their goal: to convince lawmakers to extend unemployment benefits.

"It's just one laser-focused campaign making our elected officials aware of the fact that we have finally joined together that we are now speaking up as one voice," said Rosen.

Pennsylvania State Representative Scott Petri says governments simply do not have enough money to extend unemployment insurance.

"Yes, you can keep feeding the benefits and the like, sooner or later that pool of money's gone and then you've got nothing," said Petri.

He thinks the best way to help the long-term unemployed is to allow private citizens to invest in local companies that can create more jobs.  But the boost in investor confidence needed for the plan to work will take time. Time that Rosen says still requires him to buy food and make monthly mortgage payments.

"You've got to continue to provide us with a lifeline so we can continue looking for opportunities until they return," he said.

Rosen says he'll use the last of his savings to try  to hang onto the home he worked for more than 20 years to buy. But once that money is gone, he says he doesn't know what he'll do.

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