Nearing One Million, Are Israel's Elderly a Political Force to Be Reckoned With?

The elderly won't remain silent for long, deputy Knesset speaker says, even though eighty-five percent of the elderly say they are satisfied with their lives.

Nurit Wurgaft
Nurit Wurgaft
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An illustrative photo shows an elderly couple strolling in Tel Aviv.
An illustrative photo shows an elderly couple strolling in Tel Aviv.Credit: Oren Ziv
Nurit Wurgaft
Nurit Wurgaft

There are 63,000 more elderly people in Israel than was predicted a decade ago, with the elderly making up 11.1 percent of the population, the Central Bureau of Statistics said this week.

Of the country’s 939,000 elderly, 44 percent are 75 or older.

When the now-defunct Pensioners’ Party entered the Knesset a decade ago, the number of elderly Israelis stood at 702,000.

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), co-chairman of the Knesset caucus for older adults, said the state was ignoring the fact that there would soon be more than a million elderly citizens whose livelihoods and health needs had to be addressed.

The elderly, Shai warned, “would not remain silent for long, and when they go out to protest, their voices will be heard at least as loudly as young people with baby carriages.”

Because pensions are linked to the cost of living and not wages, they are currently eroding and are among the lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of which Israel is a member.

According to the pensioners’ union, old-age benefits have declined by 7 percent compared to the average wage. The union said it would fight to raise old-age benefits and link them to the minimum wage.

The state says it has no money to increase benefits for the elderly, but in 1954, a time of severe defense and social needs, the state pension was one-quarter the average wage. Today that number is 17 percent.

According to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, Israel’s lower-than-average retirement benefits mean that about 20 percent of the elderly live below the poverty line.

According to the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, a long-term survey in which Israel took part, as of 2013, 43 percent of elderly Israelis did not have enough money to make ends meet, as opposed to 58 percent a decade ago.

According to the Hebrew University’s Israel Gerontological Data Center, which conducted the SHARE survey in Israel, 9.7 percent of the country’s elderly suffer from loneliness above the European average. Also, 38.3 percent reported feeling sadness. Among those 75 or older, that figure was 47.4 percent.

Still, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 85 percent of the elderly say they are satisfied with their lives, and not including those with medical problems that disrupt their daily lives, that figure is 94 percent.