By Nihnson Jones Williams
Every day I come to work prepared and happy, knowing that I am set to give my all to what I do best. My work is challenging but the staff I managed is bright and innovative. Our work and responsibility to both the state of Maryland and the U.S. Federal Government, as part of the union and the federal system, is to provide rationale analysis that can guide policy decisions by producing all kinds of information used to make labor market decisions. It means that, on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, my team and I are tasked with the compilation of detailed statistical data and analysis on jobs and salaries, employers and employees, sectors, current employment conditions and future trends.
In the process and on a daily basis, we also provide quantitatively, and the qualitative information and intelligence on the labor market that can assist labor market agents in making informed plans, choices, and decisions related to their business requirements, career planning, education and training offerings, job search, workforce development, and industry and occupational innovation. As a Liberian, to do this job in a country like this, it means one has to be five times better at doing it and the reasons are self–explanatory. But that is not the point.
The issue is, every day I come to work before my coffee is served, I have to do two things: pray and take a minute to think about our beloved nation, Liberia, and our people. Most times at this point sometimes my heart just breaks with sadness. Why is everything so different and backward in the country (Liberia) we all claim to love?
Today, this morning, my heart breaks again when I reflect on the fact that no one in our government in Liberia is thinking about the demand and supply of labor. Our lawmakers don’t, and perhaps the responsible agents in our executive branch have no clue because our concept of labor ministry in Liberia is that it is an office that plays the role of the courthouse to investigate cases between workers and employers.
This reflection started when I opened my email this Monday morning and saw a barrage of emails from lawmakers and some policymakers. The United States senators and members of Congress from the state of Maryland and the state Senate and members of the State’s House of Representatives have been tossing with what is good for the state and their people who work in Maryland (Industry employment) and those who live in Maryland but work in Washington, DC and other states (residency employment). They also want to know how businesses in the state are doing and what the innovation level has been. Of course, their main concern is about those who are out of work, those seeking jobs, and those in need of training and retraining, and how all that fits into the safety net program we called Unemployment Insurance (UI). UI is a program that helps individuals who lost their jobs and meet all the requirements for state and federal financial assistance. The government gives them a certain amount of money every month to support them and their family, if any, for some time until they can get a new job.
So this morning, as Maryland’s U.S. Senators and members of Congress in DC are pushing for job creation and better living conditions––a normal thing they do always–– for their people, the state legislature’s Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance (UI) in Annapolis was last Friday conducting a review of the status of the UI program. During the hearing, my Departement’s team/staff representing us received several questions from the committee requesting employment-related data tied to our UI claimant population. We promised to provide the committee with a supplemental response after gathering the information. To address the committee’s questions, I am bombarded with inquiry this morning, specifically, to provide the following information:
(1) For UI claimants with a work history of earning at least $41,000 per year (which qualifies the claimant for the maximum weekly benefit amount of $430), what is the distribution of income levels for these claimants? We would like to know the number of claimants with an earning history of $41,000-$50,000, $50,001-$60,000, $60,001-$70,000, $70,001-$80,000, and more than $80,001 per year?
(2) For UI claimants returning to work after a period of collecting UI benefits, what is the comparison between the earnings from the time the individual lost their job compared to the earnings at the job that the UI claimant obtained after a period of unemployment?
This matters a lot to me because I tend to wonder if there is anyone in Liberia, especially in our country’s legislature (both the Senate and the House Representatives who worries when thousands of Liberians don’t have jobs, can’t adequately feed their family, and address their basic social and survival needs.
When people have jobs, their communities are also rich in resources, their families thrive and their nation prospers. This is why one of the central and most important roles of any government is the possession of a sound labor market––private sector job creation and the package that goes with it. This is why unemployment is not only a political, social and economic disaster and governance risk, it is also a national security issue. I will hope our leaders in Liberia will understand this common sense and serve our people better.