Austan Goolsbee on 99ers: “Heartbreaking”

Posted on January 28, 2011 by


Austan Goolsbee

Austan Goolsbee, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

On January 27, 2011, in a follow-up round-table to the President Obama’s SOTU,  Austan Goolsbee, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers talked about the 99ers.

When asked if there are any plans to add more weeks of unemployment for the 99ers, Austan Goolsbee responded “I don’t think there has been much sentiment in Congress to extend unemployment benefit weeks beyond the 99 weeks.”  He went on to say that he was aware of the plight of the 99ers, that he has received letters and emails from people in this situation and that, “it’s awful, it’s really heartbreaking.”  However, the solution is to “get the job engine running, that’s the only way to solve this problem.”

The entire video of the interview is at (questions about 99ers are at 7:05 and then again at 31:36).  Below is a partial transcript:

The things we have done to try and address this, you got to get the job engine running. That’s the only way to try to solve this problem. And I think the reader is correct that the people who have been unemployed for a long period, they then face the double-whammy, that is if the economy wasn’t bad enough, they have a second. In some companies there’s a bias, you’ve been unemployed for a long period of time, and so they’re hiring the more recently unemployed ahead of the longer term unemployed.

The president put in place the Hire Act, which gave tax incentives to employers to hire people that had been unemployed for longer durations, and I think that has been important. The president has put a major focus on trying to facilitate and get credit and cut taxes for the self-employed and people starting their own firms.  That a lot of times if you can’t get a job to work at a bigger firm, there are people going into business for themselves.

And third,  with the tax deal, in addition to extending unemployment benefits, it’s doing a bunch of things to stimulate and get going the macro economy which is the only way we are going to get out of this problem.

Now I think, I don’t see how there were people opposing extending unemployment benefits.  In a normal period of a boom  there are one and a half people seeking work and in a recession that can go up to two, two and a half  in  a normal recession.  In this recession, that ratio went up to over 6, and it is still above 5.

So it’s come down, but there are 5 workers looking for work for every job opening  and where, in a normal period of time, you could find a job quickly, in an environment like this when you’re coming out of the deepest recession since 1929, you can’t.

So, we’ve tried to prevent millions more from getting in that situation. We’re doing everything we can to get the job engine going and giving them incentives to hire the 99ers.  I haven’t seen in Congress the sentiment  to extend benefits past the 99 weeks, unfortunately.

And to a question about age discrimination in hiring practices, he replied:

If there is a bias against older workers we’ve got to address that head on, it’s illegal, and we should be pursuing what the legal channels are on that.