First, I’m sorry I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve been quite busy lately and will probably continue to be so. Right now I’m about to move back to Ireland in one and a half week so I have a lot of planning and packing to do. Once I’m back, I’ll be able to blog more regularly.

On to the topic: Mismatching.

First let me explain the term: Mismatching in the labor market occurs when there are a lot of open positions, and a lot of unemployed, and yet the unemployment rate doesn’t fall. Why? Because the unemployed people don’t “match” the open positions.

Imagine there’s a great lack of engineers, but while there are a lot of unemployed people, very few of them have degrees in engineering. And so, they remain unemployed and the companies remain short of staff.

It’s a nightmare really – companies remain inefficient because they lack staff (or are forced to hire people without the right background), and millions remain unemployed. The unemployment rate in turn affects consumer confidence, bringing it down. With consumer confidence down, people spend less money in restaurants, hotels etc – and those are the low-skilled industries which has to be booming or else the uneducated unemployed people will never find jobs.

Another problem is that of discouraged workers. An unemployed person who reads thousands of jobs ads only to find he doesn’t fit the description to any single one of them is very likely to just stop looking for work, “accepting” that no-one wants him and that he’ll never get to work again. Every discouraged worker is a loss not only for the economy, but for society as a whole.

Truly a tragedy.

But, what does this have to do with cutting government spending?

If you happen to listen to conservative talk radio/talk shows, you know that cutting government spending is the solution to all evil. We don’t have Fox News in my country though, which is why I know reality is more complex.

The US has to cut government spending. The next president is going to have to tackle the unions and lay off federal employees.

But the picture of union members as lazy never-do-well’s is still misleading. Instead of mocking them, Republicans ought to take their concerns seriously. I bet most union members do not fit into the “stereotype”. They’re worried about one thing: That no-one will ever hire them again if they lose their jobs.

This goes in particular for those who have skills that aren’t really demanded by the private sector: Cops (there’s no private police force), firefighters (ditto) teachers (not enough private schools to hire all of them) etc.

Now you may argue that all these people surely have some skills that are demanded by the private sector, and I completely agree. Problem is, they don’t see that. Some of them do lack private sector skills, others just think they do – the effect is the same. Instead of trashing men and women who at the end of the day are just trying to provide for their families, let’s see if we can find some solution: After all, if we can help these people develop their skills and use them in the private sector, everybody wins.

I’m not suggesting dialogue with union bosses. They have their own interests in mind, not the interest of their members. I’m suggesting we reach out directly to the federal workers and talk to them. I’m suggesting we stop the name-calling for a second and realize that alienating federal workers is not a good idea. It’s not a politically smart thing to do, and it’s unworthy of christians to stage witch hunts anyway.

How can we convince federal employees to vote for us even though we may cut their jobs? Here are four ways:

1) Re-education efforts. Yes, I know some conservatives will say that the free market will fix everything eventually. When unemployment goes up, wages go down, and employers start hiring again – that’s conservative dogma 101. While it’s true, you can’t win elections by teaching economics. If you actually want to win (you know, that thing you have to do in order to change something), you have to offer solutions which goes against your ideological dogmas – this goes for both liberal and conservative candidates. Firing public sector employees and telling them “you’re on your own” is simply nothing they will ever accept. Taking a “softer” path and sending them back to school on the other hand is something they just might accept. Instead of telling them that they are worthless, lazy no-good parasites living on taxpayer money, we should tell them that they got outstanding potential that is wasted in the public sector. Scholarships and other subsidies would be very helpful, and actually profitable – if these former public sector employees don’t find jobs, that means taxpayers have to pay unemployment benefits. Why not pay tuition fees instead? That will give a return on investment – unemployment benefits won’t.

2) Be clear about who will get laid off. There are, after all, some federal employees who are absolutely vital. Yet, when Republicans talk about cutting government spending, these employees (who in reality have absolutely no risk of being laid off) may start fearing for their jobs too. And so, they’ll be much less likely to vote Republican. If 100 % of the public sector worries about being laid off if Republicans take back the White House, 100 % of them will be less likely to vote Republican. If we could pinpoint 20 % (or something) of federal employees that we will lay off once we’re back in power, and at the same time promise the other 80 % that they got nothing to worry about, the number of lost votes would probably be smaller. Yes, very few of those 20 % will vote Republican, but provided we can convince the other 80 % that we’re serious about not cutting their jobs, there is absolutely no reason why they’d be less likely to vote for us than the other guys. We need to start handing out pink slips before the election. Even if we can’t tell exactly which individuals who will be laid off, at least we can to be specific about where we will cut and how much, and how exactly we want to make the public sector more efficient.

3) Emphasize the benefits for remaining employees. Layoffs typically mean a fewer number of people will have to do the work that was previously done by a larger number of people. That’s one of many reasons why they’re unpopular – even if you get to keep your job, it now includes more stress and overtime work than before. However, with the public sector, this is not necessarily the case: No-one likes battling with bureaucracy and dealing with administration. A leaner organisation is a better organisation for employees as well. Flexibility (something the public sector currently doesn’t have) is important for a good work environment. Layoffs which cuts out unnecessary middlemen etc. can help accomplish that.

4) Take mismatching into account when you decide who to lay off. Who’s skills  can be most easily transfered to the private sector? This should not be the only factor of course, but it should definitely be taken into account.

These are just some thoughts. Now it’s your turn: How do we gain the trust of federal employees? How do we cut spending in a way that doesn’t cause more mismatching than what’s absolutely necessary? Leave a comment below.

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1 comment
  1. John, what you seem to be describing is some kind of giant, Republican “death panel,” that will be able to win votes from the very people whose jobs it is eliminating.  Any effort to soften the blow for someone losing their job will be appreciated, but I still can’t imagine many will vote for you.

    I can’t speak for the rest of them, but as one whose last-hired-first-fired job would be on the line, let me put your suggestion through the filter of my own experience.  I get paid under a precarious California State program that will likely disappear if the dry-up of federal funds puts pressure on other parts of the state budget.  My skill set is that I can bring successive groups of 25 rambunctious junior high students into my classroom and focus them on US History and Constitution for 45 minutes at a time, and do parent conferences with their parents in my second language.  I took a decade in the middle of my career to teach at an overseas mission school, and then taught at a stateside Christian school for a while, so I know I could do it again (at a serious loss of salary, 67k down to 28k).  But our question here is whether I will do that and still vote for you.  At age 61, I have a hard time believing you are going to send me for retraining.  I already have a masters degree and more college units than many people with PhD’s.

    Prior to last year, I had voted a straight Republican ticket for 30 years, but I bolted and voted for Jerry Brown when I realized Meg Whitman intended to do at the state level exactly the kind of cuts that you are proposing federally.  I still consider myself a Republican, but I am also feeling betrayed by my party.  I believe that in the early Bush years, when we could have put Human Life and DOMA amendments into the Constitution, people like Karl Rove calculated that achieving victory was less important than keeping Values-Voters hostage for future elections.  Worse, friends I have in the Pro-Life movement are telling me they try to attend Tea Party functions and are told they must put their signs away and “stay on (the economic) message.”  Since I already feel the Party is turning on me, try taking away my job, and see if I still vote for you.  Indeed, take away the jobs of the friends I pray for, and see if I vote for you.

    When I see you say lay off 20% of the government workforce, I’d like to see who you are talking about, because I suspect you’re including a whole bunch of people just like me.  I enjoy what I do, and I think I perform the kind of function that keeps our democracy healthy.  I put at least 60 hours a week into it, and I intend to do so until I’m 70, if my health will allow it.  But yeah, if you can elect enough people to office to take that away from me, so be it.  Just don’t expect that you can sucker me into voting for it.

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