Taub Report: Social issues just as threatening as war

New document shows socio-economic gaps wider than ever, Taub Center's Ben-David warns.

South Tel Aviv tent city 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
South Tel Aviv tent city 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Existential issues such as education, health, labor and welfare are no less threatening to the State of Israel than war with its neighbors, Prof. Dan Ben- David, executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Research, warned Wednesday.
Ben-David was speaking at the release of the think tank’s “State of the Nation Report: Society, Economy and Policy 2010,” which clearly shows a deepening of social inequalities in all spheres of society.
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“We should not get carried away and say this is more of a threat than defense issues, but I certainly view it as a serious threat to national security,” commented Ben-David, who is also a lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy. “By the time we manage to achieve peace with our neighbors, who knows if we will even have a country left for our enemies to make peace with?”
The Taub Center’s annual report examines Israel’s standing in the areas of macroeconomics, labor, and welfare, health and education, and was distributed to policy-makers, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It appeared two weeks after a string of public protests calling for greater social justice began country-wide.
While the protests started in Tel Aviv with university students creating tent cities on public boulevards to emphasize the high cost of housing, they have since spread to other sectors, including middle-class families who say it is increasingly difficult to cope with the rising cost of essential items and services. Simultaneously, the country’s doctors and medical personnel have held ongoing protests and strikes over low salaries and a severe lack of resources in the public health system.
Based on statistical research and analysis, the Taub report clearly shows that gaps in income and healthcare are wider than ever. Its key findings indicate that Israel’s education system is at the core of the problem. The long-term trajectory, according to the Taub report, does not bode well for Israeli society.
“The key to sustainable economic growth is continuous improvement in productivity, which increases demand for educated and skilled workers and reduces demand for workers with lower levels of education,” point out the report’s authors in their introduction. “In the less-advanced Israel of the early-seventies, employment rates in all population groups were above 90 percent. In the technologically advanced Israel of the current millennium, employment rates drop for lower levels of education.”
The report noted that 40 years ago, over 90% of men with one to four years of education were employed, but today this rate is barely 50%. Among men with five to eight years of education, the current employment rate doesn’t exceed 60%.
In addition, the report found that wage gaps between employees with 12 or fewer years of education and those with over 12 increased from 66% in 1998 to 80% in 2009.
“One of the things we were able to flesh out in this report is that the primary underlying cause of the gaps in income in Israel stems from a weakening education system,” explained Ben-David. “We tested men versus women, Arab versus Jew and looked at the wage differences. The primary problem is with education.”
According to the report, Israel’s education system is one of the worst in the Western world, with detailed analyses showing that its achievements are the lowest compared to 25 other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Ben-David said this poor showing has nothing to do with minority sectors in Israel, such as Arabs or the ultra- Orthodox, who have separate school systems, but is present in the mainstream Jewish educational infrastructure.
“How will it be possible for these children when they reach adulthood to improve on the previous generation’s economy?” he asked. “How will we be able to have a first-world army if we have a third-world economy?” He said towns in the periphery “should have become suburbs to the big cities years ago, but it is one of the colossal failures of our market that no one wants to live there” due to the lack of options for education.
“If we look at any of the young couples that are now protesting in the tents on Nordau or Rothschild [in Tel Aviv], we find that they both work and have children,” he continued.
“What would entice them to move to the periphery? If they were offered the best school system and fast and cheap public transport to connect them to the jobs in the center? But none of this has been done.”
Ben-David places blame for the current unrest on the political system, which, he said, is far too sectarian and less focused on tackling issues for the greater public good.
“We have system of government that is totally dysfunctional,” he said, urging that now is the time for the mainstream political parties to pull together to better tackle the country’s social ills.
“It’s all a question of national priorities,” he said. “Do we want a country that looks out for the entire population or basically decides based on sectarian and personal needs? For the past six decades all national priorities have been determined based on sectarian needs. It’s not like there has been no investment in transportation infrastructure, for example. We have invested, but the real question is for whom and where?” Ben-David pointed out that with gifted people in government, the challenge was to work together in a more holistic way to stop the country from collapsing under the strain of the growing social gaps.
“Israel is not Greece,” he said. “Greece can default and will still be a nation. But the Jewish nation tends to fall every 2,000 years. We are a unique nation and we have only one shot to get it right. This is our moment in history and we have to deal with these issues immediately.”