Hopeless in Gedera

The plight of these hardest-hit areas must be among the most urgent priorities on the next government's agenda.

poor 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
poor 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
This month may turn out to be the sort of record-breaker we can all do without. If current trends continue, February will yield the highest number of job losses in a single month, breaking a record that was only set in January. Last month 20,000 Israelis were laid-off, but halfway into February the number had already reached 16,000 and it is still rising. By the end of this week we may discover that the ranks of the newly-unemployed have swollen by 30,000 in 2009's second month alone. The only marginally upbeat news is that the Government Employment Service is back in operation after striking last Wednesday to back demands for more budgets and staff to cope with the growing pressure. But this is only a temporary hiatus. If by Monday the Treasury fails to ease the service's workload and significantly bolster its manpower - which is highly doubtful under the circumstance - the strike will resume. The service predicts that by year's end there will be 260,000 job-seekers. And if statistics are bleak countrywide, they are even gloomier in the regional perspective. Tel Aviv's January jobless rate was 2.5%. Yeruham's was 8.3%. The national unemployment rate stands at 6.9%, but the greatest unemployment is concentrated in the south (11%) and the north is the unhappy runner-up (10%). IN BOTH areas, which constitute what is euphemistically dubbed "the periphery," plant closures are far more numerous than in the relatively more prosperous center. Many of the Negev's and the Galilee's development towns are one-company towns. Jobs lost there cannot be easily replaced by alternative employment. The opportunities just don't exist and there is no mass transport infrastructure to facilitate commuting. Thus when Gibor announced that it is shutting down its Kiryat Shmona factory, its dismissed workers remained without realistic employment options. When Bagir ceased production in Kiryat Gat last year, it alone spiked the town's unemployment rate by a full percentage point. Most of Bagir's fired laborers are still jobless. The Pri Hagalil canning plant in Hatzor Haglilit is threatened with closure, a fact which leaves the entire town, whose mainstay it is, in distress. It's important to keep in mind that the inclination towards preferring investment in sophisticated hi-tech development hasn't helped those not qualified enough for that field. They have been left behind. Yet their interests must not be neglected. True, even the glossiest hi-tech enterprises aren't immune from the ill-effects of the global credit crunch. Nevertheless, job losses in more lucrative sectors cannot compare to the growing hopelessness in outlying areas with blue-collar redundancies. Even if all-encompassing panaceas to revitalize light manufacturing industries are impracticable, some short term postponement of the inevitable is feasible and indispensable. In the long run, "old-fashioned" industries have less of a future in the First World, to which Israel belongs. Our salaries and overhead cannot compete with the Third World. Indeed, many Israeli industrialists are Israeli only by their passport. Their production facilities have been relocated lock, stock and barrel to cheap-labor lands. In pure free-enterprise terms it's a foregone conclusion that only the fittest firms can survive and that shoring up dying industries is wasteful. But Israel must look beyond mere pocketbook considerations. We are a society of immigrants and not all Israelis are of equal qualifications. Mouths must also be fed beyond the Hadera-Gedera perimeter, unless the state wishes to confine itself to what lies between Hadera and Gedera, give up on the rest and encourage migration out of the Negev and Galilee. The plight of these hardest-hit areas must be among the most urgent priorities on the next government's agenda. Immediate remedies will be called for - even if they're only temporary palliatives. Blueprints for the long-haul cannot suffice. Though it's no longer the economic vogue, thought must be given to first-aid stimuli for failing plants far from Israel's hub, be they via tax write-offs, loans or other sorts of capital injection. We think that even artificial resuscitation for a limited interval is not only worthwhile but of critical merit, while preparations are made for more durable rehabilitation of depressed regions.