Israelis shopping for food; the people in this photo have no connection to the story.
Israelis shopping for food; the people in this photo have no connection to the story. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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The Central Bureau of Statistics published a disconcerting report Sunday on the poverty rate and income gaps in Israel. Twenty-nine percent of Israelis are at risk of poverty, it found, compared with 16 percent in European Union member states. Some 38 percent of Israeli children are at risk of becoming poor, twice the EU average. A person is considered "at risk of poverty" when he is at risk of losing his job, or when household income divided by household size falls below NIS 2,000.

It also found income discrepancies between rich and poor are far wider in Israel than in the European bloc.

This shameful state of affairs (and what differentiates Israel from EU countries ) can be traced to two poor communities that participate little in the workforce: ultra-Orthodox and Arabs.

Sixty-five percent of ultra-Orthodox men don't work - a rate nearly three times what it was three decades ago (21 percent ). The culture of joblessness is becoming more firmly entrenched in the community, the size of which continues to grow apace.

Israeli Arabs are seeing a similarly troubling growth in the ranks of the unemployed. About 27 percent of Arab men, and 7 in 10 women, aren't part of the workforce. Both communities (especially the ultra-Orthodox ) are characterized by exceptionally large families, an issue virtually non-existent in the EU.

Policy makers have long debated whether poverty must be addressed by augmenting child allowances or encouraging people to work.

In the past, as Israeli governments tried the first method, the poverty rate continued to climb. Instead, the only solution is fostering a culture of work. Only a stable livelihood can lift a family out of poverty.

To that end, the government must subsidize child day care, transportation to and from work and create a negative income tax. Core subjects must be taught in ultra-Orthodox schools, since without them it is almost impossible to enter the workforce.

Near Arab communities, industrial zones should be built to facilitate Arab women's entry into the job market. These changes should be implemented as early as next year's budget, or the gap between Israel and Europe will continue to grow.