More Israeli Arab Women Out of Work Despite Government Funding

In recent years the state has advanced a number of programs to promote employment among Israeli Arabs, mainly women, but they have hardly borne fruit.

An Arab woman at work at a call center.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Despite government plans of the past six years to encourage employment for Israeli Arabs, most Arab women still are unemployed, according to statistics released on Monday by the Knesset’s research institute.

The government has spent some 3.7 billion shekels ($971 million) during this period, the state comptroller has estimated, to increase employment among Israeli Arabs.

The data, presented to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, showed that the rate of employment among Israeli Arab women between the ages of 25 and 64 dropped in 2015 to 31.5% from 32.3% in 2014 after rising from nearly 30% in 2013. There had been some improvement in this rate, but the trend seems to have been stopped.

The gap between working Israeli Arab women and Israeli Jewish women also remains a chasm, with the employment rate among the latter 79.7%. The government’s employment rate goal for Israeli Arab women is 41% by 2020.

In recent years the government has advanced a number of programs to promote employment among Israeli Arabs, mainly women, but they have hardly borne fruit. One reason is that they provide professional training in areas that are ill-suited to meet the demands of the market. Other programs offer training that does not allow graduates to integrate into jobs that provide fair pay or employment conditions. The training courses common among Arab women are caretakers and beauticians. According to Knesset statistics, most graduates of these courses do not work in their field of study.

The rate of Arab women employed part-time for lack of choice, despite being ready for full-time employment, is more than three times the rate among their Jewish counterparts, 35% versus 11%, according to the center’s data. Jewish women earned 45% more than Arab women on average – 7,663 shekels versus 5,271 shekels – in 2014. The rate of working Arab women is 20% in Jerusalem and the south, 19% in Tel Aviv, 39% in Haifa, 34% in the north and 36% in the center. The civil service picture is particularly forlorn. The employment rate of Arab women barely rose from 2.5% in 2008 to 3.7% in 2015.

The report’s authors explain that the unemployment rate among Arab women stems from a low labor supply, flawed public transportation and social barriers such as objections to female relatives working, among other reasons.

A state comptroller’s report on the issue argues that the government has failed to set a clear outline for addressing the problem. The comptroller concluded that the plans for reducing the gaps were unsound and ineffective. Likewise, use of budgets for improving employment rates was partial at best.

The government’s last decision on economic development in the Arab community came in December, when it decided to transfer billions of shekels in aid over the next five years. Some of the plan relates to employment, but at this stage it is impossible to evaluate the results because it is the first year of the program.

The chairwoman of the Committee on the Status of Women, MK Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint Arab List), said that during the meeting suggestions were made on how to raise female Arab employment beyond the goal set for 2020, such as establishing a ministerial committee to compile recommendations on the matter, because the five-year plan the government approved still isn’t specific enough to advance the matter.