In 45,000 Israeli Families, Both Breadwinners Lost Jobs to Pandemic

A report issued to the Knesset Welfare committee finds half of unemployment claims filed since the coronavirus crisis began were by people younger than 35

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A taxi driver at a protest by small business owners in Jerusalem in March.
A taxi driver at a protest by small business owners in Jerusalem in March.Credit: Ohad Zeugenberg
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Both breadwinners in more than 45,000 Israeli families have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis, the head of the National Insurance Institute said on Monday. 

The figure accounts for 15.28 percent of unemployment benefit claims so far, NII Director General Meir Spiegler said in remarks to the Knesset Special Committee on Welfare and Labor Affairs.

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An agency report submitted to committee chairwoman MK Aida Touma Sliman said that half of the claims for unemployment benefits were from people under 35 (17.4 percent ages 20-25, 11.2 percent ages 25-28, 20.2 percent ages 28-35). Nearly 30 percent (29.5 percent) of all unemployment claims due to COVID-19 were from people in the 45-68 age group, while 21.7 percent were between 35 and 45.

Spiegler said the agreed-upon supplements to unemployment benefits for March and April will cost 7 billion shekels ($2 billion).

In a separate committee session, the head of the Labor Division in the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, Mordechai Elisha, said that in the past two weeks there have been 4,000 reports of women who were pregnant, on maternity leave or undergoing fertility treatments being fired unlawfully, compared to 1,200 in an ordinary year.

Touma Sliman demanded a freeze on all payments by citizens to the NII: “It’s unconscionable that on the one hand the government is offering assistance and on the other it is continuing to collect money from populations that have lost everything due to the crisis. The rate of unemployment payments should be increased; the safety net provided to citizens is insufficient due to the blow to their livelihood and the increase in expenses stemming from the crisis.

“There is a need for speedy legislation in the Knesset in order to make changes in the NII regulations that will benefit the citizens. We haven’t begun to approach what other advanced countries are giving their citizens. If we don’t conduct ourselves correctly, after the coronavirus the NII will be stuck with hundreds of thousands of unemployed people. The Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry could be stuck with hundreds of thousands of additional people below the poverty line.”

In response to Touma-Sliman, Spiegler agreed to the need for legislative amendments to ensure assistance for those who were harmed. According to a detailed official NII paper that Spiegler submitted to the committee, the NII believes that the government must take several steps, including extending unemployment benefits to freelancers and the self-employed; and expanding the definition of freelance workers to include stagehands, lighting and sound technicians, photographers and journalists, among other professionals.

The NII also wants to increase the guaranteed income allowance to 1,760 shekels per person, and to give unemployment benefits to workers who are permitted to work until the age of 72.

A scene in East Jerusalem, March 29, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The NII is also proposing that the days of eligibility for unemployment payments during the coronavirus crisis will not be subtracted from the eligibility days up to that point in time, and that workers whose work hours or salary have been reduced recently won’t see their benefits reduced as a result.

Spiegler said: “We are moving heaven and earth in order to create new and effective work procedures in order to help anyone harmed by the crisis. We need the help of the government and the MKs in order to advance decisions and legislation for the public’s benefit, certainly at this time.

In answer to a question from Touma-Sliman, Spiegler said his agency’s recommendations to distribute advances on allowances and to cancel subtractions from grants are still being negotiated with the Finance Ministry.

No lawmakers from the parties in the governing coalition attended the committee meeting.