Long-Term Unemployment: A 99er Gets Hired In North Carolina

09/07/2011 03:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2011

Before landing a full-time job that started last week, Ali Braswell didn't think she could make September's rent. She'd started scoping out storage options for her stuff and shelters where she could bring her two young children.

"I was running on fumes. I really did not know what I was going to do," said Braswell, who is 40 and lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. "I believed the Lord was going to make something happen. If we were going to go into a shelter then I was going to make the best."

Braswell told HuffPost she got hired last month to do human resources and customer service work for a global IT company with a location in nearby Pittsboro. She's making less money than she used to, but she said she feels "blessed."

She'd been out of work for longer than two years after losing her job as a payroll coordinator halfway through 2009. Since then, she said she had gotten by with $480 a week in unemployment insurance benefits and about $90 a week from a part-time job as a desk attendant in a residence hall at the University of North Carolina.

The unemployment benefits lapsed for a month over the summer because of an impasse between statehouse Republicans and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. The standoff stopped only when Perdue issued a surprise executive order, restoring benefits to nearly 50,000 North Carolinians. (In her order, Perdue cited the experience of a single mom like Braswell: "Because she lost her benefits she and her daughter can no longer stay in their apartment. They have nowhere to put their belongings so they will also lose everything that they can carry to the homeless shelter.")

"It's such a blessing to get this money but I only have about six weeks left," Braswell told HuffPost in June. "There aren't going to be any more reprieves. Things are still dire."

Braswell said her benefits ran out at the beginning of August. Several promising leads fell through, including an interview for an administrative position that had given Braswell a good feeling. Still, she stayed positive -- something that's very difficult for people to do when they've been isolated from steady work for so long.

"I never started to doubt myself," she said. "I never started to feel like I’m not worth anything. I never started to doubt my skills."

Braswell said the fact that she'd been working part time made it easier for her to get hired. Indeed, many employers specify in online job ads that the unemployed need not apply, a practice decried last week by none other than President Obama. (Braswell said she's keeping a few shifts at the dorm to complement the new gig. "I get home in the evening, I've been wiped out, tired, but it feels good.")

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 2 million "99ers" -- people who've been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, which is the cutoff point for unemployment benefits in the hardest hit states (technically, Braswell would not count as "unemployed" because of her part-time work -- instead she'd count as one of the more than 8 million underemployed). The Obama administration estimated last December that 4 million people would run out of benefits without finding work this year (some of those people receive fewer than 99 weeks, and some find jobs). Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist recently tapped to head President Obama's economics team, reported in a January working paper with co-author Andreas Mueller that the unemployed do not look for work more frantically when their benefits expire.

In July, John Allison of Charlotte, N.C. -- who'd been out of work almost exactly as long as Braswell -- passed the 99 week mark. Allison, 37, said he used to work as a landscaping consultant. He said he's moved in with family and that not having to worry anymore about his benefits expiring has made him more relaxed.

"I applied for any position at an Apple retail store that is opening here next month," Alison wrote in a July 25 email. "Today I received my last unemployment check. I am now a 99er. At 2:30 today I received a rejection email stating that Apple had moved forward with candidates that meet the needs of today. I have 15 years retail experience, 5 of which are in management, and I can't even get a part time spot with Apple retail."

Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.

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