The Bottom Line / Make No Mistake About Wisconsin

Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai preserve Wisconsin, fix the flaws found in it so far, and remember that this plan is both positive and successful.

The easiest thing to do is to take a swipe, to look for a weak spot, to churn out sharp words - and not to look at the big picture. This is how State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss acted when he published his report yesterday on the Wisconsin Plan, also known by its Hebrew acronym Mehalev. The newspaper headlines jumped at the opportunity and even honed the critique. They told the public of an evil plan, whose goal is to harm the unemployed, to coerce the handicapped to work and to do away with stipends for those unable to work. The socially oriented organizations, for whom the plan is a red flag, celebrated victory. Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai rushed to announce he agreed with the report and also "intends to halt the failing program and to carry out in its place a more successful plan."

Almost no one paid attention to the report's title: "Individual aspects of the Mehalev Plan". Moreover, the comptroller in truth admitted he didn't investigate the main question of whether the plan succeeded or failed. He did not check whether chronically unemployed people joined the labor market thanks to the care they received through the plan. He did not investigate the relative efficiency of the plan compared with Yishai's Employment Service, which employs 800 people across the country but barely succeeds with job placements. The comptroller didn't even base his findings on a statistical sampling but rather just on cases that were brought to his attention. And this is truly misleading. He himself says about the failures he found, "their prevalence is unmeasured."

So why publish such a report in the first place?

Lindenstrauss could have quoted the comprehensive and serious research that the Brookdale Institute conducted on the matter in cooperation with the American Joint Distribution Committee and Israel's National Insurance Institute. The research found that 22.1 percent of participants improved their employment situation thanks to the program, in contrast to 5 percent for the control group. The data includes participants above the age of 45 who were outside the work force for 10 to 15 years. If that isn't success, what is?

The Bank of Israel, which reviewed data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, also concluded that "it's desirable to continue the program and to expand it to a national scale while fixing the flaws."

The program exists in most Western nations, and its goal is to treat a central social ailment: life without work. In August 2005, after nine years of bickering, the plan was launched. During a brief period of 18 months (through January 2007) it registered an impressive achievement: Out of 18,000 people who were receiving guaranteed state support (in areas the program was implemented), the program got 10,800 of them off the dole. The lion's share was trained and entered the work force. Some worked under the table and therefore stopped receiving income support payments, and a small group began receiving disability payments instead of income support payments. But Lindenstrauss' report only gives scant mention of the positive findings, saying, "the program is important in that it is there to bring at least some recipients of income support payments to economic independence."

Socioeconomic organizations must understand that going out to work is the most important social cure. Only work restores one's honor. Only work transforms a life of dependence to a life of independence. The fact is that when both members of a couple go out to work, even at the current minimum wage of NIS 3,710 per month, poverty disappears almost completely. Only 3 percent of families with two wage earners languish below the poverty level. In other words, employment is the correct solution to poverty.

Thus it's only right that Yishai extend the program's life beyond its July 31 mandate and not remove from it people who are 45 or older. Life doesn't end at such a young age. Yishai himself is only 45. He needs to preserve Wisconsin, fix the flaws found in it so far, and remember that this plan is both positive and successful.