A paradoxical situation presently exists on the German labor market. Officially, there are four to five million unemployed. Taking hidden unemployment into account, it is estimated that there are actually between six and seven million unemployed, because this figure should also include people who have found temporary work through job-creation measures as well as other would-be workers who are parked in universities as students. The true rate of unemployment is allegedly fifteen percent in the West and twenty-five percent in the East.
At the same time, however, entire occupational branches are currently dying out. Whether immigration will help rectify this situation on a long-term basis is doubtful. The Social Democratic educational policy of the late 1960s and early 1970s was based on the assumption that Germans would gradually gravitate upwards toward highly qualified professions, whereas foreigners would be left with the simple jobs. It is surprising that a party like the SPD, which is concerned with social equity, was so incredibly elitist on this point and considered it appropriate and proper to have a horizontal structure with Germans on the top and foreigners on the bottom.
In the future, however, we will not be able to avoid directing our fellow citizens toward occupations that they think are beneath them today. This pertains especially to young people at the beginning of their careers. Youth unemployment (which, of course, will not be eliminated by this alone) can become social dynamite with highly explosive potential. If large numbers of young people do not find jobs, it will have a very different effect on society than if people are forced into early retirement at fifty-five or sixty.
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In international comparison, employment is more expensive throughout all of Germany and work hours are appreciably shorter here than in other countries. In 1994, an employee in German industry worked an average of 1,527 hours annually. In the United States, in comparison, the annual working time was 1,994 hours, and in Japan it was 1,964 hours. Also, when it comes to machine running times, Germany – with sixty hours per week – was in last place, as compared with Belgium, for example, where machines run 98 hours per week. The devastating impact of this can be seen in foreign investment trends in Germany: in 1996, foreign companies only invested 1.1 billion marks here. In 1995, they still invested 18.2 billion. German investments abroad also sank within that one year from 52 billion in 1995 to 38.8 billion in 1996.
At the moment, there is no end in sight to the downward spiral. We are presently moving from the official four to five million unemployed to possibly double that, without anyone knowing how this trend can be stopped in the short term. At what point will society and the state no longer be able to live with this loss? How will we find the means for future innovations, which Germany needs if our performance is ever going to rise again?
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It is also no secret that welfare fraud is rampant. With unemployment and welfare benefits being what they are, many are better off financially if they register as unemployed and work illegally on the side or take a tax-free 590-mark [per month] job. It is unacceptable, one might think, when a drugstore owner, for instance, cannot find a full-time saleswoman, not a single young woman who is willing to take a job that pays standard wages and is regularly taxed. But many applicants tell him that they would be happy to accept an under-the-counter agreement without getting the tax office involved.
For many, one must presume, unemployment has become financially advantageous – these people are like the student who registers at the university to save money through student discounts, but who isn’t interested in studying, but rather earning money.
Our generous welfare system is ruining people’s work ethic, and, on top of that, it can no longer be financed. It is as simple as that.