Text size

The percentage of ultra-Orthodox men not working has more than tripled over the past 30 years. In 2008, 65% of Haredi men did not work, compared to only 21% in 1979, reveals the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel in its annual report.

Professor Dan Ben-David, the Taub Center's executive director, said the state's increased allowances and funding for groups including the ultra-Orthodox have enabled them to choose workforce nonparticipation as a lifestyle.

"At the same time, years of neglect of the human infrastructure, in particular in education, and the physical infrastructure, in particular transportation, prevent many people from [acquiring] the tools to manage in a modern, competitive economy," wrote Ben-David in the center's "State of the Nation Report - Society, Economy and Policy 2009."

Three decades ago, the percentage of Jewish males in Israel who did not work was similar to that in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries: 8.7% in Israel, compared to 8.2% in the OECD, the report states. Since then, the OECD numbers have risen by 50%, but in Israel the numbers almost doubled for Jewish males, and in 2008 were 25% higher than for OECD nations.

A partial explanation lies in the Israeli educational system. The number of elementary students in state religious schools is increasing, by 8% over the past decade, while those in nonreligious schools has shrunk by 3% since 2000.

But the big changes have come elsewhere: The number of elementary school pupils in the Arab education system has risen 33% in the same period, and in ultra-Orthodox schools the increase was 51%. As of 2008, because of these demographic changes, 48% of all elementary school children were either Arab or Haredi.

"In order for these elementary schoolers to be integrated into the labor market, they must receive an education appropriate to the needs of a modern economy," said Ben-David. "But the situation in Israel is such that the level of elementary education in basic subjects is lower than in the West, and among these two groups it is much lower."

Due to the continuous growth in poverty and income inequality since the 1970s, National Insurance Institute allowances were increased over the years to help alleviate the drop in net income levels, states the report. But despite the sharp cuts at the beginning of this decade, the average per capita allowances in real terms are still five times what they were in 1970 - while the standard of living, as reflected in per capita GDP, only doubled over that period.

Ben-David said it is hard to see how such a gap could continue to exist in the future.

However, such demographic changes also have huge potential, said Ben-David, compared to the trends in developed nations. Israel has a very young population - but the educational system must be changed to prevent the increasing growth in poverty and income inequality. But Israel does have the knowledge necessary to make such changes and raise the standard of living to the levels in the West, he said, if only Israel were wise enough to provide the best education in the West.

Not using their rights

In other news of unemployment, the Employment Service reports little exploitation by the jobless of its relaxed rules regarding eligibility for benefits.

During the first half year of 2009, as the global economic crisis reached its peak, about 15,000 Israelis were losing their jobs each month. The trend turned in August 2009. Employment Service figures show that on average, 73,000 people claimed benefits each month, but it also found that most stopped claiming benefits before their eligibility expired, because they had found new jobs.

The maximal term for unemployment benefits is presently 175 days.