Poverty poll

Political parties that provide coherent solutions have earned our vote; those that do not should be punished at the polls.

Poverty in J'lem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Poverty in J'lem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Despite impressive GDP growth and record low unemployment rates over the past few years, the government has failed to significantly reduce the number of households living under the poverty line or to alleviate the tremendous gaps between the rich and poor.
In recent weeks, we have received reminders that too many Israel have been left unaffected by our robust economy’s advances.
First, there was the National Insurance Institute’s annual poverty report, released at the end of November, which found that in 2011 almost a fifth of all households were living under the poverty line, defined as half the median disposable income per household.
Most shocking, perhaps, was the fact that 20 percent of households in which at least one person worked were poor. Before factoring in various welfare benefits, the poverty rate was 32.8%, up slightly from 2010.
Next came the Alternative Poverty Report published this week by Latet, an organization that helps needy families. Based on responses from 675 people who receive aid from NGOs and from 500 members of the general public, Latet’s survey found that one out of five children was forced to drop out of school to help support his family. Ten percent of children of impoverished families have begged for money on the streets over the past year due. Overall, 27% of children have experienced full days without food.
Then on Tuesday, the National Council for the Child released data showing that 905,000 children lived in poor households in 2011. This makes up 35.6% of the children in Israel. A full 65.8% of Arab children live under the poverty level, nearly three times the proportion of Jewish children (24.2%).
For some time now, Israel’s poverty rates have been significantly higher than in any other developed country.
In 2011, Israel had the highest poverty rate of all OECD countries except Mexico, though the US, Italy and Ireland came close to the Israeli level.
The reasons for our high levels of poverty are well known. We have a very heterogeneous population. A large proportion of Israelis were either refugees themselves or are children of refugees who fled persecution.
Many came from relatively poor, backward societies.
And Arabs and haredim have disproportionately high levels of unemployment.
Based on international assessment exams, our educational system is failing to prepare the next generation for an increasing competitive, knowledge-based work environment. Haredi boys, who make up a growing share of the school-age population, are not being taught English, math or sciences and are, therefore, unprepared for the job market, even if they were not prevented from working because they refuse to perform mandatory military service.
In addition, entire sectors of the economy – building, agricultural, in-home nursing – rely almost entirely on foreign workers. Large segments of society – particularly the less educated – find it difficult to find employment.
A lack of fair competition in the business sectors results in a large amount of economic power concentrated in the hands of a few. The top 10 business concerns traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange make up 41% of the total market capitalization, much higher than in other developed economies.
These socioeconomic ailments and others need to be addressed before we can take steps toward eradicating the unacceptably high level of poverty in Israeli society.
The timing of the publication of these reports all pointing to the same underlying problem is auspicious.
In just over a month, Israelis go to the polls to elect the 19th Knesset. Unlike previous Knesset votes, which were dominated almost entirely by military and diplomatic concerns, the present campaign has seen a higher level of public awareness of the importance of socioeconomic issues.
According to the Latet survey, 75% of respondents said socioeconomic malaise represents a greater threat to Israel’s well-being than does Iran. In the coming weeks during which Israelis have the undivided attention of politicians vying for votes, we should demand coherent programs for the eradication of poverty.
Political parties that provide coherent solutions have earned our vote; those that do not should be punished at the polls.