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Unemployment grew significantly again in May and reached 8.4%, the Central Bureau of Statistics announced yesterday. There were 258,500 unemployed in Israel in May.

The unemployment figures for April were corrected to show a 8.2% rate for that month, up from the bureau's preliminary figure of 7.8% of the civilian work force.

Unemployment has been rising steadily since its low of 5.9% in August 2008, and has grown for nine consecutive months. Over the nine-month period an additional 84,200 people have joined the jobless rolls.

The employment rates for May over the past three years, 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively were 8.9%, 7.5% and 5.9%.

The Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel both forecast unemployment continuing to rise in the next few months, nearing about 9% by the end of the year. Manufacturers Association economists expect unemployment to hit 9% this year. This translates into 276,000 unemployed later this year.

The Employment Service's numbers show a rise in the number of jobseekers in June, up by 2,000 unemployed - some 0.8% - to a total of 231,200.

Yossi Farhi, the director general of the Employment Service, says that while unemployment may still be growing, the rate of growth is easing as the monthly increase in the number of jobless at the beginning of the year was in the 2% range.

The explanation is a 25% decrease in the number of those newly fired, said Farhi.

The number of those losing their jobs in June was 15,600, with a monthly average of 14,400 people laid off every month in the second quarter of the year - compared to 19,200 in the first quarter of 2009 and only 11,600 a month in 2007 and 2008.

The CBS also updated its GDP growth figures for the first quarter of 2009. The corrected data show gross domestic product falling in the first quarter by 3.7% in annual terms. The economy shrank by 1.5% in the last quarter of 2008, after growing by 0.7% in the previous quarter.

This is the third time the Central Bureau of Statistics has revised its figures for the first quarter of 2009. Its initial GDP growth numbers showed a 3.6% drop and the adjusted figures were then changed to -3.9% - and now -3.6%.

Business product fell even more than overall GDP in the first quarter, shrinking by 5.2% on an annualized basis. Industrial production plummetted 16%, with construction down 5.2%, transportation and communications shrinking by 18.2%, though businessin the financial and banking sector actually grew by 8.6% in the first quarter.

Imports of goods and services fell sharply in the first quarter - by 40.4% on an annual basis.

Consumer spending fell 3.5% for the quarter - though on a per capita basis the number was down even more, 5.2%. The main cause of the fall was the drop in sales of durable goods such as refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners and furniture fell 16.5%.

Manufacturers Association economists said the implementation of the package deal between the Finance Ministry, employers and the Histadrut labor federation, which was agreed to as part of the agreement on the 2009-2010 budget, could halt the growth in unemployment in the first half of 2010.

The economists forecast an additional 1% of economic growth in each of the next five years because of the package deal - and every 1% in growth means 25,000 new jobs, said the Manufacturers Association.