Social mobility as a priority will open doors for Israeli children - opinion

This year’s theme for maximizing children’s rights goes hand in hand with advancing social mobility, one of the socioeconomic challenges on JDC Israel’s agenda.

 STUDENTS AT an educational farm at Yemin Orde hold herbs which have been grown for sale, as part of a social business program called Youth Village Ventures, conducted at several youth villages (photo credit: MAYA TANNER/DOSTORIES365)
STUDENTS AT an educational farm at Yemin Orde hold herbs which have been grown for sale, as part of a social business program called Youth Village Ventures, conducted at several youth villages
(photo credit: MAYA TANNER/DOSTORIES365)

This past Sunday, we marked World Children’s Day, the anniversary of the UN General Assembly adoption of both the Declaration and Convention on children’s rights. These rights extend beyond protection and provision of basic needs, to education, health and more. This year’s theme of “Inclusion, for every child,” encourages us to promote children’s rights, by opening doors for all children to take part in society and providing them with the tools to secure their futures. 

I believe that this year’s theme for maximizing children’s rights goes hand in hand with advancing social mobility, one of the socioeconomic challenges on JDC Israel’s agenda. Upward social mobility is the ability to climb the socioeconomic ladder in a changing world, independent of those characteristics that may impair the chances of upward mobility. In short, it’s about improving odds. Countries all over the world face challenges of social mobility, and Israel is no exception. 

As a result of the “sticky floor” and “sticky ceiling” phenomenon, children remain in similar income brackets as their parents, and economic gaps are perpetuated from one generation to the next. Consequently, in Israel too, not all children have the same chances for upward social mobility. Only 7.4% of children born in weak municipalities are likely to reach the top decile, in comparison to 21.7% from strong municipalities (Krill Z. and Batz K., “Correlation between Place of Residence and Intergenerational Mobility of Earnings,” Ministry of Finance, January 2022). In summary, the “zipcode effect” is what determines a child’s chances of social mobility. 

JDC’s approach to social mobility

JDC’s approach to social mobility expands the scope beyond education and economics. Instead, we’ve identified five areas of life that indicate upward social mobility. Based on our own research, as well as research from around the world, we included Digital Access, Sense of Belonging, and Health as predictors of social mobility, in addition to Education and Economic Resilience. 

 Depression in children and teens is on the rise, how can we help them? (credit: PEXELS) Depression in children and teens is on the rise, how can we help them? (credit: PEXELS)

For example, our “Healthy Nutrition from the Start” (Tzuna Mibreishit) program upgrades nutritional services in well-baby clinics. Our “Moving Together” (Naim B’yachad) program involves youths from low socioeconomic backgrounds in youth movement activities, which aim to increase feelings of belonging and develop teamwork and leadership skills. 

These programs aim to bring about different outcomes for different ages, based on research studies, in partnership with the Economic Research Institute, the Rashi Foundation, Jindas, and our Yated pilot program, together with the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry. 

RESEARCH AND experience around the world have shown that helping individuals also helps society. A focus on social mobility builds a stronger society, both from a social cohesion and economic perspective. Professor Karnit Flug, vice president for Research at the Israel Democracy Institute and former governor of the Bank of Israel put it as follows: “Social and economic mobility is an important component of well-being and of the capacity of each individual to maximize their abilities, first for their own benefit, and to contribute to the prosperity of society as a whole.” 

Social mobility in Israel is a multi-dimensional challenge which requires a holistic and inter-professional approach. The first-in-Israel Social Mobility Conference, on November 10 held by JDC alongside the Prime Minister’s Office, highlighted the multi-faceted nature of the challenge and the necessity of collaboration in order to create lasting change.

The conference gathered Israeli and international policy makers, field experts, and academics, to explore all five areas of life mentioned above in which social mobility is reflected. This wider goal of achieving social mobility has resonated with our partners There is growing awareness that improved income alone is not sufficient to fully achieve social and economic mobility.

This wider goal is reflected in the JDC dashboard, comprising 15 indicators of social mobility, such as postsecondary degree holders, stress and depression, and a sense of security. To support data-driven decision-making in this arena, JDC-Ashalim also developed a digital data platform that is open to the public - SEMI (Social and Economic Mobility Israel) socialmobility.co.il. This platform consolidates available data from multiple government sources and presents the macro-scale and inter-disciplinary view on social mobility in Israel. 

Social mobility is an urgent need facing Israel’s young people – and one which has significant implications for the strength of our country’s social fabric and economy. We cannot wait for a generation to pass in order to see if our interventions have succeeded in advancing the standing of today’s young children in society. Hence, in addition to the traditional inter-generational metrics, we need to approach social mobility with an intragenerational lens. 

Nisha Patel is the Senior Consultant for Philanthropy and Strategy in the Social Sector of the Social Policy Institute, Washington University. First, she introduced a two-generation approach for low-income families with children from birth to four years, and asked: “What if we look at the same time at education for young children on the one hand, and education for parents on the other? Can we take one plus one and turn it into three if we focus on both children and parents all at once?” The program model that was created proved successful in helping the young children, as they grew up in a stronger family. After 10 years, there are about 500 member sites in a national network in the US and around the world.

Employing an intragenerational approach in Israel means providing quality services and support like this model, that will strengthen families and communities today, so that they can give children the opportunities to succeed in multiple areas of life. 

Social mobility – viewed through a wide lens - must continue to be a national priority, with collaboration from government, academia, and field experts. Together, we can move the needle on social mobility and improve the chances for Israel’s children to maximize their future opportunities, today. 

The writer has over 27 years experience in both formal and informal education frameworks, government, and the nonprofit sector and is the director of JDC-Ashalim. He was also a senior deputy director in the Education Ministry, and the Pedagogical Secretariat division director.