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More than 20,000 newly laid-off individuals registered at government employment offices in March, an all-time monthly record, according to official figures released yesterday.

During the same month, however, nearly 12,000 people found new work, indicating that the economic picture is not entirely bleak.

Employment Service director Yossi Parhi told Haaretz yesterday that his office is proud it has been able to find new employment for so many people.

Nonetheless, unemployment is increasing in Israel. In mid-2008 the unemployment rate stood at a historic low of 6 percent, but by January of this year it was at 6.8 percent, according to Central Bureau of Statistics figures.

The unemployment rate is even higher in many Western countries, and is increasing even more quickly than in Israel - in the United States, for example, the jobless rate is currently 8.5 percent.

According to Employment Service data, an average of 10,000 people were laid off every month through mid-2008. However, the Employment Service was managing to find jobs for 10,000 people a month, meaning the net number of unemployed was not changing. In many cases, the recently unemployed were those who took the new jobs.

But since then, the situation has gotten worse. The number of fired workers has increased every month, but the number of new positions has grown more slowly.

In the first quarter of this year, an average of 19,200 workers were laid off every month, while the number of new positions is staying roughly stable, at around 11,000 - and things could get even worse after Passover.

In order to deal with unemployment effectively, the government must pass a state budget as quickly as possible. Without a budget, it cannot implement plans to accelerate economic activity, assist factories in outlying areas or help companies that want to give workers a leave of absence instead of dismissing them.

Two-year budget

That's why the government will be trying to pass a law today, enabling it to pass a two-year budget for 2009 and 2010. It would actually be a budget for a year and a half, but this would save a lot of time, and reduce the pressure and travails of having to pass a budget twice.

The main advantage of passing the two-year budget quickly is that the ministers are still disorganized. They still don't know who's against whom.

Some are new, some aren't familiar with their new ministries, and some have yet to arrange for assistants and media consultants. That means they won't get a chance to organize opposition to the budget or make demands that appeal to narrow interests.

The same goes for the MKs. The largest opposition party, Kadima, has still not internalized that it is not in power. The more time passes, the harder it will be to pass a budget without paying the toll - the funds demanded by all kinds of interest groups and sectors.

That's why the time has come to pass a two-year budget. We should ignore the opposition's argument that this impinges on the Knesset's honor.