Haredi families are growing in size, employment amongst haredi men is down, and the number of young haredi men studying in yeshiva is on the rise, the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual review of haredi society has shown.
The news will not make for comfortable reading for those who have warned about the risk to the economy of a rapidly growing haredi sector which relies on welfare benefits from public coffers.
The trends, especially in employment and yeshiva enrollment, follow a period under the last government which slashed subsidies for the haredi sector in which male haredi employment grew and the number of full-time yeshiva students dropped.
According to the IDI’s figures, sourced from the Central Bureau for Statistics, the average number of children for a haredi woman has been gradually increasing since 2008, from 6.7 then to 7.1 in 2017.
This compares to an average of 2.2 children for non-religious women, four children for women from the national-religious sector, and an overall average of 3.3 children for the entire Jewish sector.
Dr. Gilad Malach, one of the co-authors of the annual report, noted that the haredi fertility rate had been as high as 7.5 in 2005, and that he did not expect the increases to continue. Malach said he believed the fertility rate would likely plateau at around 7 children per haredi woman.
At the same time, the percentage of haredi men in the workforce declined in 2017 to 51% from 52% the year before. This decrease comes following significant increases from 45% in 2013 to 52% in 2016.
The number of haredi women in the workforce has remained steady over the last three years at 73%, close to the 82% for non-haredi women.
The number of haredi men and women in higher education dropped too, from more than 8,300 studying for a bachelors degree or similar qualification to under 7,900.
Malach pointed out however that there is an increase in the number of haredi men and women going to university, instead of academic colleges, as a point of optimism and said that although there was a drop in those in higher education he believed the numbers would remain relatively stable.
In addition, the number of yeshiva students is back on the rise with the increases coming clearly during the life of the current Knesset which has restored and added to the yeshiva budget, which was cut drastically during the previous government, at the behest of Yesh Atid, so as to get more haredi men to enter the workforce.
Where as the number of yeshiva students fell from 112,000 in 2012 to 94,677 in 2014 during the previous government, that number has risen year on year under the current government, up to 124,000 in 2017.
There was some good news on the economic front as haredi household incomes are on the increase, going from NIS 12,616 in 2015 to NIS 13,658, an increase of 8%, compared to an increase of 1.7% in the non-haredi Jewish sector during the same period.
These increases reflect a rise in ultra-Orthodox salaries by 10% between 2014-2016 among those haredi men and women who are employed.
Poverty in the haredi community has been on the decline as well in recent years, with the IDI’s figures, sourced from the Central Bureau of Statistics, showing that poverty decreased from 52% in 2013 to 45% in 2016.
The rate of poverty in the Jewish, non-haredi sector is dramatically lower at 11%.
Malach said the decrease in poverty could also be due to the fact that those haredi men in full time yeshiva study are receiving higher financial support from the state, following the increases the current government made to yeshiva stipends and other benefits, such as child support and welfare payments for households where neither parent works and they have more than three children.
The previous government cut stipends for yeshiva students by more than half, and cut other funding to the haredi sector, in order to prompt more haredi men to enter the workforce.
These policies did lead to an increase male haredi employment, but were reversed by the current government, and employment subsequently fell.
Malach said that despite the bad news regarding male haredi employment, there was good news in the fact that haredi wages are rising. He ventured that those who are integrating into Israeli society are doing so successfully.
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern was strongly critical of the current government’s policies which he said have led to the decline in employment levels in the haredi sector.
“As the haredi parties extorted governments in the past and brought massive sums to the haredi public, it led to an increase in military draft evasion and damage to the ability of haredim to integrate into the work force,” said Stern.
“The principle victims are obviously Israeli citizens who serve and work, but no less is the haredi community itself. Instead of helping them integrate into Israeli society, the IDF, and the workforce, they are being left captive to haredi politics.”
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