Haredi Job Fair 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Treasury planners, we’re told, are hard at work to revise and revive Israel’s
version of the Wisconsin Plan, which was launched in 2005 and terminated by the
Knesset Labor Committee in 2010.
Israel’s “poverty lobby” at the time
instantaneously targeted the program geared to get the hard-core unemployed back
to work, portraying it as a draconian plot to further oppress the have-nots.
Indeed Wisconsin was far from a sterling success then.
Restoring it would
therefore necessitate significant course-corrections. The first would be doing
away with the empowerment, actual or apparent, of private job-placement
contractors to deprive the unemployed of benefits, especially when this can be
regarded as means to increase entrepreneurial profits.
The perception of
coerced participation in the program would likewise have to be dealt with,
especially for older jobless who face near-insurmountable re-employment
The public sector Employment Service would doubtless have to be
mollified as it always was the most extreme Wisconsin opponent for fear that the
scheme would diminish its own clout. The problem, however, is that the
governmental agency has abysmally failed to discourage able-bodied working-age
citizens from accustoming themselves to life on the dole, resigned to subsist
without gainful employment, often no longer even seeking it – indeed in all too
many cases actively avoiding work.
Not only is dependence on welfare
psychologically destructive, it is all too likely to be perpetuated and
transmitted to the next generation. Breaking poverty’s insidious cycle was the
primary aim of Israel’s version of the Wisconsin plan and is the reason the plan
must be reinstated, albeit in an amended form.
Its basic premise, which
originated in the American state of Wisconsin, is that able-bodied adults must
rejoin the workforce and not take advantage of the welfare system, whose first
obligation is to help those least able to help themselves: the elderly poor, the
handicapped and the infirm.
There is no arguing that resources available
for benefits are shrinking. Self-righteousness will not inflate shrinking
state-coffers. The challenge is to allocate what is available in the most
equitable way possible.
The original Wisconsin Plan’s chief proviso is
that benefits claimants “must be unemployed involuntarily, through no fault of
their own, and must be able and available for and actively seeking work.” To
facilitate claimants’ return to the labor market, the plan provides them with
enhanced reemployment services, counseling and training.
unjustified dependency on the dole is not a cure but a deformation. The
taxpayers cannot carry and support those who can but will not work. The
Treasury’s reduced generosity is not the problem. The problem is aggravated by
those who generate expectations that society owes everyone a living, and even a
good standard of living.
There is much talk these days about the
“voluntarily unemployed” haredim, but they are not alone, nor are all of them
genuinely without income. Our concern as a compassionate society should not be
for those who are quite satisfied not to work, or who make their living
“unofficially,” while collecting welfare payments.
The Arab sector, cited
as particularly impoverished, is uniquely problematic. Investigators find it
almost impenetrable and it is hard to discover how many welfare claims are
legitimate and how many of the claimants have other income.
cheat the system take food and medicine out of the mouths of those who cannot
work. Jobs are not a plausible alternative for the old, ill and disabled. They
are getting the rawest of deals when their benefits are cut. As a society we
ought to be ashamed when senior citizens need to choose between medication and
nutrition. If anything, benefits to those who cannot work must be substantially
increased at the expense of those who will not work.
decreasing readiness to work when welfare provides viable alternatives. This, in
turn, leads to an increase in the number of illegal foreign laborers, further
decreasing the availability of jobs to Israelis. It is a vicious cycle whose
real victims are those who indisputably cannot work. Funds that should be
earmarked for them are squandered elsewhere.
Bemoaning this cycle will
not break it. The Wisconsin Plan might.