Despite impressive GDP growth and record low unemployment rates over the past
few years, the government has failed to significantly reduce the number of
households living under the poverty line or to alleviate the tremendous gaps
between the rich and poor.
In recent weeks, we have received reminders
that too many Israel have been left unaffected by our robust economy’s
First, there was the National Insurance Institute’s annual
poverty report, released at the end of November, which found that in 2011 almost
a fifth of all households were living under the poverty line, defined as half
the median disposable income per household.
Most shocking, perhaps, was
the fact that 20 percent of households in which at least one person worked were
poor. Before factoring in various welfare benefits, the poverty rate was 32.8%,
up slightly from 2010.
Next came the Alternative Poverty Report published
this week by Latet, an organization that helps needy families. Based on
responses from 675 people who receive aid from NGOs and from 500 members of the
general public, Latet’s survey found that one out of five children was forced to
drop out of school to help support his family. Ten percent of children of
impoverished families have begged for money on the streets over the past year
due. Overall, 27% of children have experienced full days without
Then on Tuesday, the National Council for the Child released data
showing that 905,000 children lived in poor households in 2011. This makes up
35.6% of the children in Israel. A full 65.8% of Arab children live under the
poverty level, nearly three times the proportion of Jewish children
For some time now, Israel’s poverty rates have been
significantly higher than in any other developed country.
In 2011, Israel
had the highest poverty rate of all OECD countries except Mexico, though the US,
Italy and Ireland came close to the Israeli level.
The reasons for our
high levels of poverty are well known. We have a very heterogeneous population.
A large proportion of Israelis were either refugees themselves or are children
of refugees who fled persecution.
Many came from relatively poor,
And Arabs and haredim have disproportionately high
levels of unemployment.
Based on international assessment exams, our
educational system is failing to prepare the next generation for an increasing
competitive, knowledge-based work environment. Haredi boys, who make up a
growing share of the school-age population, are not being taught English, math
or sciences and are, therefore, unprepared for the job market, even if they were
not prevented from working because they refuse to perform mandatory military
In addition, entire sectors of the economy – building,
agricultural, in-home nursing – rely almost entirely on foreign workers. Large
segments of society – particularly the less educated – find it difficult to find
A lack of fair competition in the business sectors results in
a large amount of economic power concentrated in the hands of a few. The top 10
business concerns traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange make up 41% of the total
market capitalization, much higher than in other developed
These socioeconomic ailments and others need to be addressed
before we can take steps toward eradicating the unacceptably high level of
poverty in Israeli society.
The timing of the publication of these
reports all pointing to the same underlying problem is auspicious.
just over a month, Israelis go to the polls to elect the 19th Knesset. Unlike
previous Knesset votes, which were dominated almost entirely by military and
diplomatic concerns, the present campaign has seen a higher level of public
awareness of the importance of socioeconomic issues.
According to the
Latet survey, 75% of respondents said socioeconomic malaise represents a greater
threat to Israel’s well-being than does Iran. In the coming weeks during which
Israelis have the undivided attention of politicians vying for votes, we should
demand coherent programs for the eradication of poverty.
parties that provide coherent solutions have earned our vote; those that do not
should be punished at the polls.