Report: Ethiopian olim in dire straits

Bank of Israel defines more than half of all Ethiopian households as poor.

ethiopian protest  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian protest
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ethiopian immigrants earn about half what their Israeli counterparts earn in both monthly and hourly terms, according to an excerpt released Wednesday from the Bank of Israel's 2006 annual report, which is due to be published in full on April 11. Furthermore, more than half of all Ethiopian households were defined as poor as opposed to only about 16 percent of the Jewish population as a whole, the report found. Despite the gloomy picture of Israel's Ethiopian community painted by the document, community representatives welcomed the bank's findings as a way to raise awareness of the hardships faced by their people. "It's ironic," commented Danny Admasu, director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), which lobbies the government on behalf of the community. "Even though the situation is bad, it is a good sign that an institution such as the Bank of Israel is finally raising these issues; perhaps at last someone will take notice of the community's hardships." With a focus on the labor market, the report also found that a tendency to larger families, single-parent units, children living with elderly parents and the fact that many Ethiopian immigrants settle in already distressed neighborhoods were all factors contributing to the 106,000-strong community's difficulties. In education, only 40 percent of Ethiopian immigrants of working age in 2005 had an elementary school education, and many of them lacked essential vocational skills. Additionally, the participation rate of those of working age in the labor market was also lower than for the rest of the Jewish population - only 57% compared to 76% among the general Jewish population. In its recommendations for improving the situation, the report suggested "wider geographical dispersal of the community, with an emphasis on more prosperous towns and neighborhoods than those where they currently live; expansion of affirmative action regarding their employment in the public sector; and an increase in the amount of resources available for schools with high proportions of Ethiopian students." "We have been trying to raise these issues for some time," said Admasu, adding that more than two months ago the IAEJ called on the government to support implementation of an already existing affirmative action law to employ more Israelis of Ethiopian descent within the public sector. According to IAEJ spokesman Avi Masfin, the law, which demands employment quotas for Arabs, women and disabled people, was amended a year-and-a-half ago to include Ethiopians, but government ministries have yet to increase efforts to employ more qualified Ethiopians. In statistics released this year by IAEJ, more than 75% of highly educated Ethiopians are not able to find employment in the field for which they are trained and instead take up low-skilled, low-paid work. "Industry and education are the two most important factors that can improve the situation," said Masfin, adding that on May 16, the government's interministerial committee for immigrant absorption would be examining ways to improve employment opportunities for qualified Ethiopian Israelis.