If unemployment is at 5%, why is poverty so high?
A third of Israelis believe poverty is the most urgent and important national issue, ahead of security and education, they are asking that their lawmakers take time out and unite to push through the reforms for the essential needs to live with dignity, to address poverty, affordable housing, education, health care, the needy, the sick, handicapped, food security, aging, jobs and the ability to meet the cost of living. This can be addressed through better policy and deep educational and economic reforms. The Israeli economy has a great deal of growth still ahead of it. Poverty, in Israel is deepening and people are finding it increasingly difficult to escape the poverty cycle and make ends meet. The status of the middle class is eroding and many are joining the poor. If we want social stability and social responsiveness, we must make sacrifices and fund the fight against poverty. We can afford to take a little time out entertaining the world body on their “Pet Peeves”. Trust me, the Israeli Palestinian dispute will still be there well after we eliminate poverty, exactly where we left it. Nothing will be lost. We need to eliminate “Poverty”.
One in three children in Israel lives below the poverty line. 1.7 million people are poor. Poverty, is defined as any person whose income is less than NIS 3,077, $792 a month or NIS 4,923, $1268 for a couple. A five member family pulling in less than NIS 9,230, $2377 a month is also considered poor. Among the ultra-Orthodox, 54.3% are below the poverty line. There are many that cannot make ends meet, senior citizens and people who cannot work. Some 277,000 working citizens fall into the poverty line. The poverty rate among the Arab community is 52.6%. Among senior citizens, the poverty rate 23.1%. The report found that 92% of the elderly cannot afford nursing care or help at home. 36% worry that as a result, they will lose their homes.
2.65 billion shekels, $685 million, are allocated for child benefits and savings grants. A further 580 million shekels, $150 million, are allocated for income support for the elderly living in poverty, and also allocated for welfare and employment programs, as well as to targeted anti-poverty programs.
While people are hungry, not all poor people feed themselves well and eat worse who also often cannot afford to eat well, It’s the formula for making hunger become obese, overweight and obtain nutrient deficiencies. The poor can eat well, by simply educating to them proper diet. Food poverty, is the inability to afford and have reasonable access to food which provides a healthy diet. Overweight, in itself increases the risk of disease, disability, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, non insulin dependent diabetes, constipation, joint pain, and shortness of breath. Risks multiply if one eats too much animal fat, smoke, drink alcohol and take very little exercise. So, good diet education will lower health insurance costs and runs to the emergency room. Tackling food poverty requires more than just education. It needs initiatives that focus on nutrition education, and on practical food skills, which only affordable food and a living wage will produce. These small scale initiatives do not reach sufficient numbers of people and are therefore limited as part of the overall solution. This would reduce their health risks, lower medical needs, hospital visits, become more productive and most of all healthy.
Affordable housing for the poor is needed to combat continued rise in housing prices and rent that prohibit them a place to live. Our government must pull itself together and present a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty with clear goals and appropriate resources. Creating competitive markets, especially in foods, brings prices down, and creates jobs. We must introduce programs and incentives for the private sector industry to be a part of this effort, like aid, tax and allowance considerations.
We need programs that allow the poor and disadvantaged a high quality educations that will contribute to higher incomes and greater workforce participation. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis marched in the summer of 2011 to voice their frustrations over the high cost of living. The demonstrators did not come from Israel’s poor, or from the left or right of the political spectrum. They were Israelis from across the middle class who shared one common concern, the sense that they were being financially squeezed to the breaking point, and they were right, the average Israeli family cannot make ends meet across all population groups in Israel, expenditures exceed income. The average household cannot purchase an apartment without assistance, which usually comes from their parents, gradually decreasing savings. It takes years for Israel’s bureaucracy to approve housing construction and two years more to build.
More programs are needed for those that are out of work, because their trades are no longer needed, that have no employable skills, or refuse to work, understand that they can be retrained for job skills that are in demand. This will help them lower the income gap. More programs are needed to teach financial management, and how to handle money, that will help make ends meet. We can get the private sector to provide internship, on the job training, and support government programs, after all they are the ones that will benefit by it, receiving qualified employees.
I am sure there is Talmudic wisdom somewhere, to get the Haredi to go to work. After all it is a mitzvah to support your family. I am sure working with their Rabbi's and Networks we can come up with Rabbinical decrees to help them find jobs and be removed from the poverty rolls. Give them Mitzvah jobs, attending to the elderly, that cannot afford day attendees. Train them to work in hospitals, as social workers , in medicine, law and accounting that are always permissible. Recruiting more Heredi into the IDF will train them for careers and prepare them to further their education, that will help them support their families and avoid poverty.
Improving the lives of Arabs, their infrastructure and communities will help them feel like they are equal citizens. Encouraging more Arabs to join the “National Service”, and understand their needs of the benefits from joining. Allow them the chance to do service in their own towns, villages and directly help their own communities. It fosters a greater sense of volunteerism in the Arab community and eliminate poverty. If they are working, paying their bills, supporting their families, keeping their family happy, being a part of the system, this will bring us real “Peace”. For those that are older, similar programs can be made available to help them meet their daily needs, entitle them to the same attractive benefits, which also include better terms on a mortgage, good deals on eyeglasses, social benefits and so on.
Israel, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world as well as a record number of successful start up companies. Part of Israel's success in creating successful, entrepreneurial businesses can be traced to the fact that every 18 year old is obligated to spend a couple of years in the military. National service gives the young Israelis problem solving skills, interaction with a broad range of people, and an invaluable network. After their military service, many of these young people go on to college and graduate school with a better perspective on what they want to do and the leadership skills and life experience essential in starting and building a company. National Service became an option for Israelis as an alternative to the usual three years in the IDF for men and two years for women. Many different non profit organizations coordinate the placements, typically in education and health facilities. About 90 percent of the volunteers are women. They serve for either one or two years, receiving a monthly stipend and are rewarded afterward with benefits commensurate with time put in. Money earned can be used toward a new business, or higher education after their service. National Service helps coordinate placements for its Arab population as well, to cover for lack of money. This program can be modeled for older men and women to help with their debts. We will save money, having the same National Service program for older citizens in poverty, to train them for jobs in demand, or to work additional hours to help them provide for their families. We are giving them welfare, this may just may eliminate that a savings to the tax payer.
The Israeli government tries to accommodate all citizens able and willing to complete National Service, and at the end of their term offers them similar benefits to the young Israelis who serve in the army regardless of religion or ethnicity. A growing number of Israel Arabs are now signing on. Eliminating or reducing poverty will solve many of our outstanding issues, will grow our economy, and make better citizens.