Unemployed activists have clamored for news attention to the plight of the "99ers," people who have exhausted the unprecedented 99 weeks of unemployment benefits made available in some states to fight the worst recession since the Great Depression.
They got some attention they might not have wanted on Monday, when Fox News host Glenn Beck introduced them to his viewers. "Have you heard of the 99ers?" said Beck, showing video from a New York rally last Thursday. "Some of these people, I bet you'd be ashamed to call them Americans."
Beck had free advice for the jobless activists at the protest: "Don't spend your remaining money on travel to get to a protest. Go out and get a job. You may not want the job. Work at McDonald's. Work two jobs. There has been plenty of times in my life I've done jobs I hated, but I had no choice. Two years is plenty of time to have lived off your neighbor's wallet."
It's an argument that resonates with many members of Congress, especially Republicans. Some long-term jobless, however, might counter that they've been turned down for jobs for which they were overqualified because of age discrimination, or because managers don't want to hire someone who will bolt for a better job as soon as the economy improves. For every story about a business owner complaining that potential workers would rather live on unemployment insurance, there's another about businesses flat-out refusing to hire the unemployed. After all, there are nearly 15 million unemployed competing for three million jobs.
Beck asked an important question: "How many weeks of unemployment are enough? Really. If 99 weeks is not enough, how much is? 100, 200? A lifetime? Or is a job a right?"
The government has provided additional weeks of unemployment benefits as a matter of routine during every recession since the great depression, but before the current one, the most help provided was 55 weeks during the early 1980s.
Democrats in Congress have proposed giving the unemployed in the hardest-hit states an additional 20 weeks of benefits, but the legislation is not incredibly likely to pass the Senate. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over unemployment insurance, had an answer for Beck's question back in April: "I think 99 weeks is sufficient."
WATCH Beck's segment on 99ers: