Why have Arab-Israeli workers been hit hardest by COVID-19?

"The weakness of the Arab sector in the labor market is reflected in the high concentration of Arabs employed in economic sectors characterized by low wages, including construction, agriculture."

Girls walk on the outskirts of the Bedouin city of Rahat, southern Israel (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Girls walk on the outskirts of the Bedouin city of Rahat, southern Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak has left no sector of Israeli society untouched. Even now that most restrictions to combat the pandemic have been lifted, hundreds of thousands of Israelis remain out of work.
 
One sector that has been hit especially hard by the outbreak has been Israel’s Arab working population, a new study by Dr. Suleiman Abu-Bader of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s (BGU) Department of Economics has demonstrated.
 
The vulnerability of Arab-Israeli workers largely results from their concentration in traditional sectors of employment, including agriculture and construction, which often suffer a significant blow at times of crisis.
 
According to the study, published Monday by Arab-Israeli research group Crisis Expert Teams, the average increase in the unemployment rate among Arab citizens is approximately 25% higher than within the Jewish population.
 
“The weakness of the Arab sector in the labor market is reflected in the high concentration of Arabs employed in economic sectors characterized by low wages, including construction, agriculture and transportation,” said Abu-Bader.
 
“During an economic crisis, traditional sectors... are more severely impacted than modern industries, which employ more skilled workers and are also able to adapt themselves to changing circumstances more easily.”
 
Arab-Israeli households are also more vulnerable than their fellow Jewish citizens due to high dependency ratios, where few wage-earners are required to support many dependents – both young and elderly.
 
Abu-Bader adds that the vulnerability of sectors employing many Arab-Israelis are compounded by poor wages, leading to a situation where many workers laid off or placed on unpaid leave do not possess sufficient savings to cope with the current crisis. The recovery of the same sectors, he writes, are not at the top of the government’s priority list, making prospects of a swift return to work problematic.
 
“There is an urgent need to implement policy which will make it easier for households and businesses impacted by the crisis,” said Abu-Bader. “Arab society in general, and the Arab-Bedouin society in particular, have been severely affected in recent months by social and economic conditions that have been formed during decades of discriminatory government policy.”
 
In the short term, the BGU economist argues that the government must implement a universal basic income program until the current crisis subsides, enabling an acceptable standard of living for those affected and offering assistance to Arab business owners whose companies are not recognized by local authorities.
 
To solve long-term employment issues and vulnerability, Abu-Bader states that national programs to integrate young Arabs into the professional workforce must continue, and that infrastructure in unrecognized Bedouin villages in southern Israel must be improved in order to ensure reliable education.


Tags Negev economy