99er: (U.S) A person who has exhausted his or her 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.
“99 Weeks Later, Jobless Have Only Desperation” reads the headline on a front-page article by Michael Luo in the New York Times on August 3. The primary subject of the article is Alexandra Jarrin, a 49-year-old college graduate who, “not that long ago, had a corporate job near New York City and was enrolled in a graduate business school, whose sticker is still emblazoned on her back windshield.” Luo continues:
Ms. Jarrin is part of a hard-luck group of jobless Americans whose members have taken to calling themselves “99ers,” because they have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits that they can claim.
For them, the resolution recently of the lengthy Senate impasse over extending jobless benefits was no balm. The measure renewed two federal programs that extended jobless benefits in this recession beyond the traditional 26 weeks to anywhere from 60 to 99 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate. But many jobless have now exceeded those limits. They are adjusting to a new, harsh reality with no income.
Long-term unemployment in the United States stands at record high levels. Luo reports that in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 1.4 million people were out of work for 99 weeks or longer. (Read the full article; read the nearly 700 comments.)
The “unemployment” sense of 99er is recent; the earliest citation I found is dated March 21, 2010. In Urban Dictionary: “Tom’s a 99er and I don't know how much longer he’ll be able to pay his bills if he does not get a job or some help.” The term began gaining popularity soon afterward. In late April, Change.org, the website of Poverty in America, published a five-part series by Megan Cattrell titled “The 99ers” that put a human face on the problem:
That's where Louise is today. Ninety-nine weeks and no job in sight. She's not alone — though there aren't hard numbers yet, an estimated one million people could become "99ers" by the end of 2010. There are between five and six job seekers for every opening, and it is now taking people longer than ever before to find employment; the average unemployed person is out of work for a record 31.2 weeks. A quarter of the unemployed — equivalent to the population of Connecticut — have already been out of a job for more than a year.
See also a previous Word of the Week, mancession.
The 99er nickname may owe some of its stickiness to the parallel (and stark contrast, expectations-wise) with “49er”—a first-wave prospector who came to California after gold was discovered in 1848.
A Google search turns up additional definitions for 99er:
- A collector or aficionado of the TI-99/4A home computer, a popular model in the 1980s. The 99er.net site is dedicated to this fan base.
- A person “who knew absolutely nothing about cycling prior to Lance Armstrong’s first Tour De France victory in 1999.” (Urban Dictionary.)
- “A person who lives or was born in the areas surrounding route 99 [a k a U.S. Highway 99] in California.” (Also Urban Dictionary.) (This usage of “99er” is news to me, and I’m a native Californian.)