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'99ers' exhaust jobless benefits

Thousands are banding together to agitate for another extension.

April 30, 2010|Alana Semuels

Omar is worried that if her sister loses her job, all four will be out on the street. Since getting laid off from her job as a customer service rep in 2008, she has applied to dozens of jobs, including some at McDonald's, but still hasn't found work. Omar, who speaks Dari and Pashto, is now thinking about applying to become a translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

"I'm at the point that I don't want to be on the street," she said. "I'm looking for anything that will pay me some money."

Stephens says she has no family members to turn to -- her 86-year-old mother needs financial help herself, and her daughter is just squeaking by. She's looking into programs that will give her low-income discounts on her auto insurance and electric bills now that her benefits have expired.

"I'm sick to my stomach with fear and anxiety," said Stephens, who used to make her living in marketing for the wine industry. She has worked only sporadically since 2006.

Extending jobless benefits would be a relief to Stephens and others, but Congress is considered unlikely to do so, and some economists caution against it.

People who know they'll keep receiving benefits "don't rush to find new employment," said Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the conservative Cato Institute. Data show that the long-term unemployed often find a job just as their benefits run out, he said.

King, who runs the Internet radio forum known as Jobless Unite, says she has applied for 3,000 positions since she lost her job in the mortgage industry. She's angry at those who suggest that the unemployed just aren't trying hard enough to find work.

"I see signs that say you don't work, you don't deserve to eat," King said during a recent radio program. "You know what? We're trying like hell to find jobs, but they're just not out there."

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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