Unemployed people in Austria will be guaranteed jobs as part of a new trial programme that could have a significant impact on how countries around the world handle their jobless population.

At the end of August, about one in five unemployed people in the Lower Austria region had been out of work for more than a year.

Lower Austria’s department of work has entrusted economists from Oxford University with developing a pilot study that will eliminate long-term unemployment in the town of Marienthal, according to a report by The Independent.

All long-term unemployed persons in the town — approximately 150 individuals — will be given jobs in fields such as childcare, gardening or home renovations. These individuals will be paid a full wage.

Townspeople who have been unemployed for more than a year will be invited to participate in a two-month training course — it will consist of one-on-one guidance and access to counselling and medical support for those who need it.

Then, participants will be helped to select a subsidised job in the private sector. If no suitable job is available, they will be helped to create a job that is based on their skill set and their knowledge of their community’s needs.

“I did not want to leave the house. I didn’t want to let others know that I am not doing well,” said Jennifer (43) to The Independent.

She is one of the people who will be apart of the pilot study and has been unemployed since 2011.

“To be part of this project feels like a dream come true,” she said of the programme, which has received a warm welcome from the town so far.

“Lacking work you can’t think positively — with work you can. That’s most important to me. If that’s right, everything else falls into place.”

Marienthal is a symbolic choice for the study. In the 1930s the town was devastated by the closure of the local textile factory, which led to social disintegration and damage to civic life. At the time, a groundbreaking social research study was carried out there.

“Researchers at the time established that the impact of losing a job went well beyond financial hardship and could have a profound psychological impact on a person concerned, and wider repercussions in their community,” says The Independent.

The new study hopes to measure the opposite: how a guaranteed job could uplift a community and the individuals in it.

Economists have long been proponents of an unconditional job guarantee as a way of controlling unemployment. The study will provide valuable evidence with regard to the question of whether a job guarantee or a universal basic income is a better approach.  The Marienthal study, however, is the first time that the plan has been tested on a large scale.

Legislators across the globe will be following the three-year study closely, as there is mounting international interest in this approach. Prominent supporters of a job guarantee include former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Lukas Lehner, one of the economists who designed the study said to the Independent that “[w]ith many jobs already lost and warnings of a tidal wave of unemployment around the corner, it’s understandable that the idea of a universal jobs guarantee is gaining interest.”

The pilot study is expected to cost €7.4-million (R140 206 745,05)— this amounts to a cost of €29 841 (R565 393,25) per participant, according to the researchers. They say that this is almost equal to the annual cost to society of an unemployed individual, which is  €30 000 (R568 405,80) at present.

The project will also generate around €383 000 (R7 256 647,38) in revenue.

The pilot study will be funded by the Public Employment Service of Lower Austria.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

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