Sept. 14, 2011 -- As President Obama travels today to North Carolina to deliver another speech on job-creation, criticism of his jobs plan is coming from an surprising quarter--the unemployed themselves.
The longest of the long-term unemployed, so-called "99ers" whose benefits have run out, say the president's plan ignores their needs. They say that while it gives employers an $8 billion incentive to hire people out of work, it leaves them free to discriminate against 99ers and to hire instead the more recently unemployed.
The president's speech comes amidst increasing public skepticism of his $447 billion plan. A Bloomberg poll released earlier today finds that 51 percent of Americans don't think the plan will help lower unemployment. Only 36 percent approve of his efforts to create jobs, and the president's approval rating stands at the lowest of his presidency—45 percent.
The president will deliver his speech at WestStar Precision, a manufacturer of specialized machined components in Apex, N.C., near Raleigh-Durham. He was not expected to address the special needs of 99ers, who now number some 7 million.
Mariana DiFlorio, a 99er who lives outside Charleston, S.C., says she's disappointed in Obama's plan. "It says what he would do to put construction workers back to work; it talks about the needs of teachers and young people and public service workers who need jobs." But, she says, it all but ignores the plight of those like herself who have gone so long without work that all their benefits have finally run out.
"I think his priorities are wrong," says DiFlorio. "His list is a little backwards."
In her view, the most help for the unemployed ought to go first to veterans, then to first-responders, then to 99ers. Everybody else who's unemployed, she thinks, ought to get in line after that.
Gregg Rosen, president of The American 99ers Union, a group that champions the needs of the long-term unemployed, said he, too, is disappointed with Obama's jobs plan. It's a fine thing, in his view, that it provides some $8 billion in new incentives for employers to hire the long-term unemployed. But Rosen and his group take issue with the definition of that term.
Under the president's plan, employers would get a special tax credit of up to $4,000 for each unemployed person they hire who has been out of work for 6 months or more.
That incentive, thinks Rosen, could actually work against the interests of 99ers, since it leaves employers free to discriminate between the short-term and longer-term unemployed.
"Incentives like this have been tried before," he says, "and the unfortunate fact is, some employers have tried to work around the system" by hiring only the most recent jobless. He cites job notices in newspapers that say "long-term unemployed need not apply"—or words to that effect.
The Obama plan, he says, leaves "a gap where it's still possible to discriminate against 99ers." He fears employers will be happy to take the $4,000, will be happy to hire somebody six months out of work, and will be happy not to hire somebody else out of work two years or more.
Speaking for his constituency, Rosen protests, "We just keep getting pushed further and further back, to the end of the hiring line."