The confusion and embarrassment marring the government’s handling of Israel’s unemployment woes were reflected by a strange comment by Finance Minister Yisrael Katz in a debate at the Knesset Finance Committee last week. “The assessments, not those of the National Insurance Institute or the Employment Service, but according to Google and its various analyses, are that the unemployment rate is 16 percent,” Katz said.
The coronavirus crisis sent the jobless rate up from an all-time low of 3.4 percent to an all-time high near 28 percent. The gradual reopening of the economy has since lowered the rate, though no state agency can say what the number is today. The last organization to publish an official statistic was the Israel Employment Service, which said at the end of May that unemployment was at 23.5 percent.
The confusion and absence of up-to-date and accurate information stem from the characteristics of the crisis: Some businesses were immediately racked, while others are feeling it now and are laying people off. Businesses in some industries have reopened and are beginning to bring back employees placed on unpaid leave, while others have yet to resume regular operations. This situation requires the government to devote most of its efforts to handling the unemployed so as to swiftly restore economic activity.
But the politicians are apparently indifferent and busy with their own interests. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, differ on the issue of the state budget. Gantz demands approval of a budget for both 2020 and 2021, in accordance with the coalition agreement that says this must be done within 90 days of the inauguration of the new government.
Netanyahu is dawdling, being characteristically vague and seeking to approve a budget only for the rest of 2020, to leave himself the option of breaking up the government and holding a new election. In this way, he’d be able to take advantage of his good showing in the latest opinion polls.
The linkage between the absence of new information on the unemployment situation, the political interests guiding Netanyahu and the delay in preparing a state budget are bad news for the unemployed. How can you advance their interests without up-to-date information? And what use is this information if Netanyahu and Gantz aren’t in a hurry to craft a budget to address the economy’s extraordinary needs after a year and a half of election campaigns, temporary budgets and the coronavirus crisis?
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Many of the jobless are 35 and younger, lacking in education or employment security. They need state help the most, as well as an opening up of the economy, progress on reforms, professional training and opportunity-generating growth.
The coalition agreement calls for the government to spread out a socioeconomic safety net for all Israelis, with an emphasis on the poor. But it seems Netanyahu and Gantz’s are much more concerned about their own welfare.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.