Arab Women and Haredi Men Must Join the Workforce

The main reason why the incidence of poverty in Israel is so high is the low rate of employment among two population groups - ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women.

The report on poverty in Israel published a few days ago was met this time with general silence. True, here or there there was some short item or report, but that was all - no noise and no fuss. Does that mean that the problem of poverty has been solved?

Clearly it has not. The media silence stems from the great disappointment that the report carried with it. In an era of public protest and never-ending complaints, the media had hoped for a report that would prove that the situation has worsened, that poverty is eroding the middle class as well. A report of that kind would have made it possible to publish huge red headlines against a black background, with prophesies of rage such as "Poverty worsens, protests on the way." Instead, the report was a disappointment. It stated that the rate of poverty has dropped, and that is why the media stuck it on the back pages.

The National Insurance Institute wrote that the standard of living has risen since the end of the recession in 2010 and unemployment has declined, while poverty too has decreased. The data show that the incidence of poverty declined from 20.5 percent in 2009 to 19.8 percent in 2010. The report even stated that there has been a drop in the incidence of poverty among children, a considerable improvement among the elderly, an improvement in the lot of single-parent families as well as in the incidence of poverty among the ultra-Orthodox, and that the Gini Index, which measures income inequality, has also improved.

Does the National Insurance Institute not understand that it is supposed to give us a bleak picture and not to report improvements?

But a moment before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusions, we must hasten to say that even after the achievement of 2010 we are not referring to a dramatic improvement here, but merely to a small change. Israel's poor ranking on the Gini Index, in comparison with the rest of the world, has remained as bad as before.

Nevertheless, we must note that there has been a change in the trend. That is because in 2009 the poverty situation worsened while in 2010 it improved. And even more important: Unofficial figures from the NII show that this year too (2011 ), the incidence of poverty has continued on a downward turn, and that is good news.

An important figure in the report that caught my attention relates to the sensitive issue of the "working but poor." The report says that some 40 percent of families that have one wage earner are living below the poverty line. Is it possible that so many families both work and remain poor?

For that reason, I examined the term "wage earner." When we say wage earner, we refer to someone who is working full-time, or at least half-time. But it transpires that the definition of a wage earner in the report is completely different. In the survey of incomes carried out by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the respondent was asked whether he had worked one hour or more during the past three months. If the response was "yes," he was listed as a wage earner. If the response was "no," he was registered as not working.

Therefore it is possible that the "wage earner" had worked for an hour one Friday distributing flowers, or perhaps for a few days renovating an apartment, or that he had replaced a friend in his office for a week. All these people are "wage earners" according to the report. Now it is clearer how the figure of 40 percent was reached. And all this before we talk about families where there are eight or 10 children; in such families, even if you work full-time with an income that is double the average wage in the economy, you will nevertheless be living below the poverty line.

This all leads to the main reason why the incidence of poverty in Israel is so high. It is the low rate of employment among two population groups - ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women.

Ultra-Orthodox men must be encouraged to go out and work through subsidizing their professional training, giving them the opportunity to study for the matriculation exam and at an academic preparatory course, and stopping the granting of stipends to most married yeshiva students. The Arab women must be encouraged by providing them with employment skills, subsidizing day care centers, granting stipends for them to complete their studies at elementary and high school, and building industrial zones close to Arab towns.

If these populations join the work force, the economy will grow rapidly, the standard of living of the entire public will rise, poverty will diminish and social gaps will lessen drastically.

But even if all this happens (and it is a big dream ), we will know nothing about it. Because do you think the media will suddenly begin reporting good news?

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: מי אוהב חדשות טובות