99 Weeks: When Unemployment Benefits Run Out

Scott Pelley Reports On The Growing Number of Americans Who Are Exhausting Their Benefits

The economic jam we're in has topped even the Great Depression in one respect: never have we had a recession this deep with a recovery this flat. Unemployment has been at nine and a half percent or above for 14 months.

Congress did something that it has never done before - it extended unemployment benefits to 99 weeks. That cost more than $100 billion, a huge expense for a government in debt.

But now, for many Americans 99 weeks have passed and there's still no job in sight. Some have taken to calling themselves the "99ers."

"60 Minutes" and correspondent Scott Pelley went to several communities in search of the 99ers, but we didn't expect to find such a crisis in Silicon Valley, the high tech capital that many people hoped would be creating jobs.

Extra: Wiping Out Savings
Extra: San Jose and the Recession
Link: Job Connections
Link: Second Harvest Food Bank
Link: Martha's Soup Kitchen

If you want to understand why the economy is stalled, come to San Jose, Calif., and talk with 99ers like Marianne Rose. "I remember it coming close to like six months. I was saying, 'I can't believe I'm out of work this long.' Then the year mark hit. And I just started just panicking seriously. Now that it's over two years I can't believe it. I just, I can't believe it," she told Pelley.

Rose was a financial analyst at a real estate firm. Age 54, she's single with a grown daughter. After being laid off with about 100 co-workers, she spent her savings, lost her home and finally found herself sitting in a truck with her dog and all of her possessions.

She made a desperate call to a friend and found refuge upstairs in the home of strangers, her friend's brother and sister-in-law.

"How long did you think you would be in here?" Pelley asked.

"Two weeks really. That's all I thought," she replied.

But she told Pelley it has been six month. "And not really an end in sight, yet."

"What sort of things would you be willing to do at this point?" Pelley asked.

"Well, I can say that probably the lowest level position for me has been now to apply for a clerk, a county clerk and I just realized the competition is pretty stiff out there," she replied.

Asked what she meant by stiff competition, Rose explained, "There's a lot of people, speaking of the county. I had applied to those clerk positions. There's actually four positions that were open. I found there were over 2,000 people that applied for those four positions."

Rose is one of at least a million and a half Americans who've exhausted their unemployment checks.

Now, Silicon Valley, the capital of American innovation has a new creation: revival meetings for the unemployed. On weekends, they come by the hundreds.

"60 Minutes" joined a gathering called "Job Connections," held inside a local church.

It's part how-to-find-a-job workshop, part networking opportunity with the feel of a 12-step program.

The people in the group are the faces of unemployment in Silicon Valley, people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who thought they had done everything right: earned a degree, stayed with their company, saved for retirement.

"I'm curious. How many PhDs in this room?" Pelley asked. "One, two, three, four… several. Now leave your hands up. How many master's degrees? Oh boy. And how many of you went to college. Everybody keep your hands up if you have a college degree, a master's degree or a PhD."

Many in the room had their hands up.

"How many of you expected to retire from the company where you were working?" he then asked.

"More than half the room," he noted.

  • CBSNews

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