New figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed a surprising, if minor, increase in employment among ultra-Orthodox men and women in 2020, despite the COVID-19 health crisis and the severer repercussions it has had on the economy.
According to the new figures, the percentage of ultra-Orthodox men in employment rose from 54.9% in 2019 to 55.2% in 2020.
In addition, the percentage of ultra-Orthodox women in employment rose last year from 80.2% in 2019 to 81.3%.
In the general Jewish population, employment among men declined from 86.3% in 2019 to 86%, and among women from 85.6% in 2019 to 85% in 2020.
Work force participation rates in the ultra-Orthodox sector also increased from 67.4% in 2019 to 68% 2020.
Low ultra-Orthodox employment has frequently been cited by senior Israeli economists as a hindrance to future economic growth, and a severe problem for the economic stability of the country as the size of the ultra-Orthodox population grows rapidly.
Government efforts were made from 2013 to 2015 to reduce welfare benefits to the ultra-Orthodox sector, particularly cutting yeshiva stipends for full-time yeshiva students.
Those cuts were subsequently reversed, and ultra-Orthodox employment has stagnated for several years.
Yehiel Amoyal, director of the Kivun Center run by the Kemach Foundation for the Ministry of Labor and the Jerusalem Municipal Authority, said the COVID-19 crisis has hit the ultra-Orthodox sector hard, with many in the community having been laid off from work.
He also noted that many ultra-Orthodox workers were and still are employed informally, and that when the corona crisis hit, they were unable to obtain state benefits available to those in formal employment.
Amoyal said that such employees either demanded to be hired formally or switched jobs.
This might account for the recent increase in employment rates.
Additionally, he noted that because donations from Jewish philanthropists to yeshivas have decreased significantly, some men have been forced into the work force.
Finally, Amoyal said that for a significant period of time, increasing numbers of ultra-Orthodox men have been seeking professional training that takes time to complete, and that these processes may be now be beginning to bear fruit.
“The encouraging data for this terrible year sum up the growing desire in all parts of the ultra-Orthodox sector to integrate into employment,” he said.
Kemach Foundation Director Moti Feldstein said that despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic and the decline in employment in the general population, efforts to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox men in the work force were ongoing and successful.
“Integrating the ultra-Orthodox into employment can only be achieved through determined work and by providing specific employment opportunities to individual applicants,” said Feldstein.