About two million Israelis live below the poverty line - report

Bituach Leumi (National Insurance) published a short and overdue report from past data on poverty and inequality in Israel.

Poverty in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Nicky Kelvin)
Poverty in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Nicky Kelvin)
Bituach Leumi (National Insurance) published a short and overdue report from past data on poverty and inequality in Israel, due to a delay in the arrival of data from the Central Bureau of Statistics on which the report is usually based, given the general chaos in the last two years of political-governmental paralysis. Nevertheless, the data from this year's report also show that alongside the socio-economic crisis of the past year, the one that preceded it, 2019, was characterized by a social deterioration without a functioning government in Israel (recall that the political crisis began with the dissolution of the 20th Knesset exactly two years ago).
According to the report, 1,980,309 Israelis live below the poverty line, as of last year, according to Bituach Leumi. This is 23% of Israeli citizens and 31.7% of Israeli children. In the Arab sector, 702,832 are poor, with 346,397 of this population being childre. In the Jewish population, the proportion of the poor is 17.7%, but in the ultra-Orthodox sector alone, it is 49%.
In the Arab population, 35.8% live in poverty. For the people working in Israel who are not only supported by benefits, the poverty rate stands at 18.8%. 155,279 senior citizens in Israel live below the poverty line.
The report's findings show that the standard of living of families in Israel, as measured by the median economic income, fell by a considerable 22.7% in 2020, with the main victims being of the middle class. In addition, there was a significant increase in poverty and inequality from 22.4% in 2019 to 23% in 2020.
According to the calculation of the 2019 poverty line, the number of poor in Israel increased by half a percent, but the report emphasizes that given the intensity of the economic crisis, the increase in poverty measured is surprisingly moderate, and once again illustrates the importance that this year was for the emergency measures taken by the government in deploying a social safety net for employees in Israel. Unsurprisingly, poverty rates among the self-employed population who are not entitled to unemployment benefits at all since the beginning of the crisis have risen from 15.3% to 16.5%.
Unemployment benefits alone rescued 23.6% of families from poverty, compared to 2% in 2019. The assistance in the form of unemployment benefits for all the unemployed people in Israel created only a moderate artificial decline of 4.4% in the standard of living measured only by disposable income, but Bituach Leumi emphasizes: "This is still an unusual decrease compared to previous years, 3% -4% per year. A decrease of a similar magnitude occurred only recently in 2001."
Against the backdrop of data distortion in the past year due to such a significant increase in aid benefits in light of the corona crisis, Bituach Leumi emphasizes: "It is possible that even people who were poor in the past will not be defined as poor this year, even though their income has not risen and may even fall. For example, those who live below but close to the poverty line in 2019 and whose income fell by less than 4.4% find themselves outside the poverty line. Their condition has worsened, and their sense of poverty has increased."
"For years, we have been claiming that poverty is the scourge of a state that is only expanding to new audiences," said Python Lev CEO Eli Cohen. "According to the report, a 23% drop in living standards means that the lower middle class has fallen into poverty. At the same time, government payments are the factor curbing the catastrophe. In the near future, government payments will stop, while the decline in living standards will remain."
Cohen added: "A new generation of poverty has been created here - families affected by the virus who were 'born' into the cycle of poverty with no choice. Behind every number, figure and statistic in the report is a person, family and business that collapsed - with many dreams and big debts. No plan to eradicate poverty is on the horizon and every year the report worsens, without a promise or a goal from the government."
Translated by Abigail Adler.