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Unemployment fell to a seasonally-adjusted 8.8 percent of the work force in the fourth quarter of 2005 - its lowest level in nearly five years.
The figure, provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday was down from 8.9% in the third quarter.
"This is certainly positive, but as a goal we should strive for a much lower unemployment rate of around 3%-4%," said Israel Institute for Economic Social Research chairman Roby Nathanson.
The new figure was the lowest unemployment rate since the second quarter of 2001, when 8.7% of the work force was without work. Unemployment peaked in late 2003 and early 2004, nearing 11%.
Some 250,200 workers were unemployed in the fourth quarter, down from 268,600 in the third.
The unemployment rate for 2005 as a year was down to 9.0%, following 10.4% unemployment in 2004.
According to the CBS, Israel's economy added 93,000 jobs in 2005, including 15,000 in financial services; 12,000 in retail and wholesale commerce and repairs; 12,000 in hospitality and food services; 10,000 in education; and 10,000 in health, welfare and caretaking services.
Nathanson predicted that unemployment would not drop below the 8.5%-9% range in 2006, noting that economic growth may slow, depending on the performance of the state budget and global markets.
General elections at the end of March add a further element of uncertainty, he said.
To boost employment and participation in the work force, Nathanson called on the government to expand the Mehalev welfare-to-work program, also known as the Wisconsin program, and apply it nationwide. He also recommended encouraging female employment by subsidizing daycare and recognizing family costs as tax deductions.
Unemployment among women in the fourth quarter fell to 9.2% from 9.3%, while unemployment among men fell to 8.4% from 8.5% in the third quarter.
The rate of participation in the work force rose to 55.7% of the population in the fourth quarter from 55.2% in the third, according to seasonally-adjusted data, the bureau said.
"This is still very low when compared internationally. We are still significantly behind," Nathanson said. Israel, he added, should aim for a participation rate of at least 70%.
Female participation rose to 50.6% from 49.9%, while male participation rose to 61% from 60.8%.
"Essentially, unemployment is not the issue," Nathanson said.
Gov't, Manpower team to help olim find jobs
Even as the jobless rate fell near 5-year lows, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and Manpower announced a joint effort to bring more jobs to new immigrants.
Dozens of employers will present opportunities at fairs in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Kfar Saba from March 6 to March 9, bringing together hundreds of job options for olim intent on either finding work or obtaining a job that better matches their professional potential, the ministry and Manpower said in a joint statement Tuesday.
A wide variety of positions will be represented areas such as industrial enterprises, commerce, services, biotech, fashion, engineering, hi-tech, sciences and accounting.
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