Reviving Wisconsin

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.

May 4, 2013 23:28
3 minute read.
Haredi employment fair in Jerusalem

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 hurdles.

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.

Habitual, 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.

Those who 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.

Employers encounter 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.

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