Number of Unemployed Graduates Hits Five-year High

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On will present his ministry's plan for fighting unemployment today, on the heels of new data showing that the number of job-seekers rose by 2.2 percent, or 4,400 people, in November compared to the previous month, while the number of unemployed university graduates hit a five-year high.

The plan will at first only be presented to Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, and later to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It will be unveiled to the public within one to two weeks, said officials.

The centerpiece of the plan - which was drafted by treasury officials in cooperation with experts from the National Economics Council (part of the Prime Minister's Office), the National Insurance Institute, the Bank of Israel and the Government Employment Service - is a proposal under which employers would send workers on three-month unpaid leaves, in rotation, rather than dismissing them.

During this period, employers would continue to pay workers' social benefits, such as contributions to their pension funds, while the NII would pay 70 percent of the workers' salaries. Moreover, workers would undergo professional training during this time to improve their job skills.

Another element of the plan involves subsidizing transportation costs for workers who live at some distance from their jobs. This proposal is meant to make it easier for residents of outlying communities to work in major cities.

The plan would also offer financial assistance to unemployed people who want to open their own business, extend the period of eligibility for unemployment benefits and beef up the government's professional retraining programs.

Finally, it calls for hiring some 10,000 people to work on the infrastructure projects that the government had previously decided to launch as part of its broader plan to cope with the global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office is working on its own plan, in conjunction with the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the NII, the Histadrut labor federation and the Manufacturers Association. During discussions about this plan - to which treasury officials have not been invited - the Histadrut and the Manufacturers Association proposed increasing the government's assistance fund for small and medium-sized businesses, which currently stands at NIS 200 million, to NIS 1 billion. They also proposed freezing municipal taxes (arnona) and utility rates at their current levels for one year.

The government's final plan will presumably contain elements from both the treasury's plan and the prime minister's plan.

According to data published by the Employment Service yesterday, the number of job-seekers with university degrees rose by 10.7 percent to 23,600 in November compared to October - the highest level in five years.

In contrast, the number of long-term unemployed receiving income maintenance payments, who are generally unskilled workers with limited education, fell to its lowest level in a decade - 116,800 people.

University graduates constituted 8.3 percent of all job-seekers in November, up from 6.5 percent in mid-2007, and they accounted for almost one-third of the net increase of 4,400 people (new registrants minus those who found jobs).

Altogether, there were 198,400 job-seekers in November, the highest number in almost 18 months. Of these, 24,000 were registering with the Employment Service for the first time, including 16,500 - 68.8 percent of all first-time registrants - who did so because they had been fired from their previous jobs.

Over the last several months, the number of people registering with the Employment Service because they were fired has been steadily rising. In the second half of last year this number averaged 11,100 a month. In January, it was 12,250, and in September, it was 15,100.

Government officials believe that in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 6.1 percent, will rise to 8 percent next year.