Despite economic growth, 35% of children still poor

NII report: Poverty trends in Israel remain unchanged; number of elderly poor even increasing.

nii bituach leumi 248 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nii bituach leumi 248 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite clear economic growth in most sectors of the market, poverty trends in Israel remain unchanged, with the number of elderly poor even increasing, according to the semiannual poverty report published Thursday by the National Insurance Institute (NII). While the report, which covers the period from July 2006-June 2007, showed a two percent increase in employment and a rise of 1.6% in liquid income per person, the number of those struggling below the poverty line increased very slightly. According to the report, 1,674,800 people were living below the poverty line during late 2006 and early 2007, compared to 1,630,100 in 2005-2006, with 805,000 (35.9%) of the country's children officially considered poor. The number of poor families stood at 420,000, compared to 404,000 for the 2005-2006 period. More than 60% of these families had more than four children. "This report is both optimistic and pessimistic," commented Miri Endweld, Head of the NII's Economic Research Department. "Even though the changes are not dramatic, we have seen a positive growth, however it is not an equal growth, and sadly many people are still struggling." Endweld, who has been preparing the semiannual report since its inception three years ago, said that her team was most surprised by the increasing numbers of elderly poor. Last year's data showed a definitive improvement in the situation faced by those in their golden years, with the number of elderly poor standing at 89,600 or 22.9% of Israel's elderly population. The latest report's figures, however, saw that number rise to 23.5%. In addition to the elderly, there was also growth in the number of working poor - or those who have at least one family member with an income. Last year, the NII identified 22.6% of the population as working poor; that figure has now risen to 23.9%. In 2002, working poor made up a much lower 17.6%. Even though the report shows little improvement, Endweld said that certain steps taken by the government over the past year to address the country's poverty situation might in fact paint a better picture when the full figures for 2007 are published some time mid-2008. In response to the report, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said that the findings made it clear how much work there was to do in order to reduce socioeconomic gaps and poverty. "Tackling poverty is an ongoing process, but I am committed to giving this issue my full attention," he said, adding that the move in the coming months toward negative income tax, the proposed increased minimum wage and additional state benefits for the elderly would provide some relief to low income families. In the meantime, groups working in the field with Israel's weak and needy spoke out against the report, which they said was misleading and again called on the government to increase its efforts to combat poverty. "The level of poverty in Israel is reminiscent of a third world country," claimed Adv. Eran Weintraub, general manager of Israeli humanitarian aid organization Latet, which distributes food to more than 100 soup kitchens and supply centers countrywide. "Ghettos of poverty are prevalent in all segments of the population, especially among the elderly, Holocaust survivors, single-parent families and the Arab and haredi sectors." Weintraub blamed the government's failure to take responsibility for the country's poor and the lack of a comprehensive program to fight poverty as among the main reasons for the continuing rise in poverty figures. Efi Rifkin, director of food distribution charity Orot Hessed, said that the government had essentially abandoned the poor, leaving them to be cared for by charitable organizations such as his own. He renounced the treatment of the country's elderly as a disgrace. "It is not right that someone who gave their life up for future generations should live in need during their later years," said Rifkin.