Unemployed people: Who’s to blame?

When it comes to Public Administration, I think about all these people behind their counters interacting with citizens often asking their advice. These people are called “the street-level bureaucrats”. In 1980, Michael Lipsky defined street-level bureaucrats, “as the civil servants that meet citizens, like teachers, policemen and social workers.” They are the “interface” between citizens and government.

As you may be already know, I am an international student from France. Because of the decentralization in my country, the implementation of public policy has deeply changed. Indeed, government focuses more on the satisfaction of the citizens, to adapt policies according to their needs. That is why street-level bureaucrats nowadays have a really important role. They are really significant because they deliver the policy that has been constructed elsewhere, and whatever citizens get from government is what the street-level bureaucrats do. Those street level bureaucrats are police officers, teachers, social workers, etc. They are in charge of controlling access to public programs and enforce public laws and regulations. Then, bureaucrats do not only deliver but also actively shape the policy outcomes by interpreting rules.

For example, to help people to find jobs, government has created a public structure called “Pôle Emploi” (http://www.pole-emploi.fr/accueil/). Within this structure, civil servants are social workers. Their goal is to assist the unemployed in their job research in order to reintegrate them into the workforce, especially training aid and hiring subsidies to characterize the rehabilitation process.

From a practical point of view, I want to react to an article published in Le Figaro (a French newspaper) in which the Minister of Labour has indicated his desire to strengthen the “control of the unemployed people.” (http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/economie/2014/09/12/31007-20140912ARTFIG00357-controler-les-chomeurs-mieux-vaut-controler-pole-emploi.php).

Concerning the case of social workers, I think that this kind of street-level bureaucrat have to respond to citizens with only a limited amount of information and only a limited amount of time to take decisions. Moreover, the unemployed person himself may make more difficult the role of civil servants if he does not fully engage in his desire to get back to work. Here, the unemployed person may be at fault for his own situation. He thus finds himself in a vicious circle.

But we really need to question these assumptions. Indeed, we can also put the blame on the implementation of policies created at the top by politicians. For example, referencing the unemployed people and the database that is then created in order to find the best job for the person concerned is highly questionable. Instead of tightening controls of unemployed people as the Minister of Labour recommends, why not directly address the procedures for reception and orientation of the unemployed? We can even make the connection with neighboring countries such as the United Kingdom or Germany where professional reinsertion seem more suited to the unemployed people. Moreover, very often, the rules to implement do not always correspond to the specific location or context of the involved citizen. It is true that certain methods of support are too standardized and do not necessarily reflect the needs of applicants. Take the example of a person who does not seem to totally get involved in looking for a new job. We could focus on his psychological state. Does he need psychological counseling? Is he going through something difficult in addition to his unemployed social status?

All these questions must be answered before you start monitoring an unemployed person. The title I chose, which may seem quite challenging, yet reflects a difficult reality. How can we say that the unemployed chose to be unemployed? Why cannot we reform the “Pôle Emploi” system? Although questions remain unresolved, my goal through this post is to show the complex relationships that exist between the unemployed and the employment center responsible for him. One more interesting thing is to ask what flexibility street level bureaucrats benefits in the implementation of policies since they have been designed at the highest point in the hierarchy.