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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