Our social time bomb

We need a revolution that will lift the country from the cycle of poverty and bring us into the family of OECD nations.

February 6, 2011 22:06
3 minute read.
A homeless man lies on a sidewalk

poverty homeless dirty 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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In January 2010, Israel was unanimously invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). With the prestige of being inaugurated into the exclusive financial organization, its induction allowed its economy to be scrutinized and analyzed by the world’s leading economists.

The report the OECD issued revealed deep divisions of wealth, with a fifth of the population living under the poverty line, and concluded that Israel is its poorest and most unequal member. This revelation surprised few here, who had witnessed the divisions in wealth increasing to Third World proportions. For those on the margins of society – Arabs, Beduin and the haredim – the high GDP, low national debt and booming hi-tech industry didn’t obscure the painful inequalities in resources and opportunities.

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Alongside the practical recommendations that accompanied the OECD report, other conclusions can be drawn from Israel’s ranking as its poorest member. The fact that the highest-ranked nations are Denmark, Sweden, France and Britain – nations with generous support for working families – is no coincidence.

These nations offer universal health care, living salaries, extended, paid maternity leave (Denmark 52 weeks; Sweden 68.5; France 16; and Britain 39, to be extended to 52 weeks; often with dedicated paternity leave built in), child stipends and state-run child care centers, allowing parents to pursue careers while knowing that their children will be provided for.

WHILE OUR social infrastructure for families is certainly admirable, especially in comparison to the US, it must be improved to help families compete in the workforce. Extracting a third of the country’s children from the cycle of poverty is not dependent on more government stipends, but on creating a socioeconomic climate that serves working families.

If the government creates effective social and communal infrastructure, and not only agencies that distribute government benefits, poor, unemployed parents could become independent, productive and contributing members of society. Needy and dependent families will change their course, on the personal, family level, and on the national level. Revitalizing the state’s welfare institutions, encouraging programs that integrate the unemployed into the workforce and incorporating disempowered groups into the economy will gradually diminish the nests of poverty that have sprung up.

This can be accomplished by advancing sustainable socio-familial policies and standards. These include implementing the court ruling recognizing child care as a tax-deductible expense, building affording housing, extending the school day, subsidizing enrichment and after-school activities for children, making affordable day care accessible to more parents, and encouraging employers to provide child care in or near the work place – policies that create the employment conditions conducive to productive and prosperous families.

These recommendations are wellknown to policy makers, but a leader who will enact this revolution – the revolution that will lift the country from the cycle of poverty and bring us into the family of OECD nations – has not yet emerged.

Our leaders and institutions must recognize that the family is the building block of society. This is not a meaningless slogan, but a fact of great socio-communal and sustainable economic significance. Families that don’t function economically are a social time bomb. Strengthening families that are dependent on the state with the appropriate economic tools and services will prove to be a true strength. Last week we celebrated Family Day and it’s a good time to urge lawmakers to strengthen families’ economic capacity, and allow Israel to earn a respectable place in the family of OECD nations.

The writer is founder and executive director of New Family Organization.

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