The closest thing we have to Kurzarbeit in the U.S. is what we refer to as furlough. Many U.S. companies did some of this during the Great Recession, to reduce payroll costs without having to do even more extensive layoffs than they were already doing.
U.S. style furlough is subject to U.S. labor laws, which don't really permit something like Kurzarbeit. For instance, during a mandatory one week furlough, salaried employees are not permitted to do any sort of work at all during that work week -- no conference calls, no checking company email, etc. To some of us, it seemed rather silly, since we can check our work email from any device that has an internet connection, and would prefer not to have to deal with a full week's worth of email when we return from furlough.
Despite the payroll cost savings, furloughs come with other costs in lost productivity and disruption of work flow. You can imagine the effect on teamwork and team output when different members of the team are taking their mandatory furlough in different weeks, or perhaps even worse, if the entire team takes the same week off.
On the campaign trail, President Obama is at the Master Lock factory in Milwaukee today to highlight the fact that the manufacturing company is "insourcing" jobs and the plant is back to full capacity. Why weren't they talking about this three years ago?
This from a very good news site, "Changing Gears: Remaking the Manufacturing Belt":
"Can This TV Show Make Manufacturing Cool?"
Your points are well taken. You and I are essentially in agreement -- as you pointed out, "the skill sets may not become obsolete, but what people are willing to *pay* for those skills drops." If that's the case, our colleagues are not getting laid off because the lack of their "skill sets" (even though that's how employers often frame the issue when they are cutting the workforce here).
So, let's not mix the employer's cost issue with the employee's "skill set" issue.
By the way, since when have we started to call this "skill sets"? Isn't it the same thing as "skills"?
"Tell that to your friends who recently got laid off."
I don't have to. They are finding out the hard way.
The root cause may very well *be* the cost, but no difference. As mentioned, work flows to where it can be done cheapest, and the Internet has made it possible for whole classes of work to go elsewhere. The issue of outsourcing is one that has been discussed here: if a developer in, say, India, has the same skills that I do, and is willing to do the work for half of what I have to charge, what happens? Chances are, the job goes to him. It's a competitive economy, price is an area where manufacturers compete, the lowest cost producer can offer the best price, and salaries and fringe benefits are a major component of costs.
The skill sets may not become obsolete, but what people are willing to *pay* for those skills drops. In many cases, it drops below the level of a living wage for the American worker, because it costs a lot more to live here.
And when I speak of skill sets, I'm not just talking about hi-tech. What happens to the worker on the line in a plant when the plant moves overseas? There's no line for him to work on. What else is he qualified to do? Not much, which is the bind many find themselves in.
I think the author is confusing several issues.
Kurzarbeit may marginally contribute to the higher levels of employment in Germany, but it is not really essential.
I worked in Germany for a year in 1988 and even then, they had 6 weeks of vacation.
France, tried a similar approach (RTT: Reduction du Temps de Travail, 35 hour workweek). It failed to stimulate job growth, and they are trying to backpedal now.
The employment in general and the manufacturing jobs in particular are strong in Germany because of the industries they are focusing on. They are not assembling iPads or iPhones. They do very sophisticated equipment in mechanics, electromechanics, heavy machinery, medical equipment, etc. They have a huge base of small and medium size companies who are world class in their segments. They are not manufacturing Chevy's, they are manufacturing BMWs, Mercedes Benz's and Porsches.
One also has to wonder, how does Germany maintain its competitiveness despite its quite high tax rates and universal health care? Their corporate tax rate is flat 15%, nominally lower than in the US, but I doubt GE can get away with 0% there! Personal income tax rate goes up to 45% and has little or no deductions. When I worked there, coming from France (which has a rather high tax rate) I was livid when I saw my first paycheck. And they have a VAT that's higher than our state sales taxes.
We are governed by a bunch of financiers and all they care about is ROI for their own money. If they continue that way, they will have to outsource the citizenry as well...
Good luck to us all.
I think we do have a form of Kurzarbeit here in the US. Unfortunately, the intent is generally quite different. It's not uncommon for companies to cut hours just below the minimum that would qualify an employee for benefits. Granted, this is more prevalent in the service and manufacturing industries, but that just means that it is used with those least able to survive a cut in pay.