17,500 Israelis lose jobs in December 2008

Poverty report shows living standards rose in 2008 but Herzog says it paints "incomplete image."

poor 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
poor 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The number of Israelis living below the poverty line remained constant and the standard of living - even for the country's weakest sectors - rose slightly in the first half of 2008, according to the semi-annual poverty report published Friday by the National Insurance Institute (NII). But data from recent months shows a less optimistic picture. According to the report, a staggering 17,500 people were dismissed from their workplaces in December, showing that Israel wasn't spared the repercussions of the global financial meltdown, which is causing an unprecedented wave of unemployment in the country. According to the report, the number of new job-seekers in November reached 24,400. Of them, some 71.7 percent were people who lost their jobs. But December marked a peak in the number of dismissals. The report, which focuses on the period between July 2007 and June 2008, does not accurately reflect the current economic slowdown that began in September and has seen thousands fired, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said. "Any new government that is created [following the February 10 election] must take responsibility for the current recession and actively find ways of dealing with the country's poverty challenge," said Herzog. "We are expecting that the recession, which seriously affected the economy in the last half of 2008, will only start to show in the figures in the next report," he said. "This report does not include data from the end of 2008 and does not reflect the economic recession or the recent war in the South, both of which are likely to push the figures back up again." According to the report, some 1,631,000 Israelis lived below the poverty line in the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008, compared to 1,600,400 for 2007 as a whole and 1,674,800 during the same period of late 2006 and early 2007. In addition, the report noted that 418,000 families were considered poor, with 777,400 children living below the poverty line from July 2007 through June 2008. These figures are only slightly changed from the 2007 annual poverty report, which showed 412,000 families below the poverty line and 774,000 children officially considered poor. During the previous year - 2006 - some 805,000 or 35.9% of the country's children were below the poverty line. Despite the fall in poverty rates since 2006 and the improvements in living conditions especially for the country's elderly and Arab population, the NII warned that the scope and severity of poverty had deepened. In November, when the annual poverty report for 2007 was released, Herzog warned that the forthcoming year was likely to be a very difficult one for the lower-income population and that the economic growth enjoyed through 2007 and early 2008 might be completely erased. "According to forecasts, a high rate of unemployment is expected in 2009," he told The Jerusalem Post then. "I don't want to induce unnecessary panic, but it is better to know the facts and lay them on the table before it's too late." Both Herzog and NII Director General Esther Dominissini have said that the institute is in the process of forming a plan designed to deal with the expected rise in unemployment and increased poverty in 2009. MK Rabbi Michael Melchior, head of the new Green Movement-Meimad Party, was harsh in his response to the report. "A state with over 1.5 million poor people and over 770,000 poor children is no Jewish state. Poverty is not a divine decree but the consequence of deliberate government policy," he said in a statement. "The fact that during the peak of Israel's economic growth, poverty rates didn't drop is a result of the veteran parties' negligence, which prefer to ignore the civilian issues time after time. Poverty and social gaps are the State of Israel's greatest danger, and we must make these issues a top public priority," Melchior continued.