After Israel's First COVID Lockdown, More Women Than Men Returned to Jobs

The National Insurance Institute also finds that workers over age 65 were the least likely to return to work, followed by those in the 45-54 bracket

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Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square during the third coronavirus lockdown, two weeks ago.
Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square during the third coronavirus lockdown, two weeks ago.Credit: Hadas Parush

The first lockdown last spring forced Israeli businesses to shut down or pare back operations, leaving as many as a million Israelis unemployed or on unpaid leave, but the coronavirus crisis turned the gender tables. 

The National Insurance Institute recently examined who of those ended up returning to work and at what pay, and came up with some surprising findings.

In most economic crises, women workers suffer the most, but data shows that women were 24% more likely than men to have returned to work after the first lockdown. In addition, women were less likely than men to suffer a pay cut when they returned to work (36% versus 41%) and when their pay was less the decline was smaller (23% versus 24%).

Workers over age 65 were the least likely to return to work, followed by those in the 45-54 age bracket. Compared to young people, up to age 24, they were respectively 20% and 16% less likely to have returned to work.

Although the number of Israelis unemployed or on unpaid leave rose to one million during the second lockdown in October, in the current lockdown the number appears to be lower. The third lockdown, which went into effect December 27, pushed the number of jobless to 670,000 in its first two weeks, of which 380,000 were on unpaid leave, according to the latest figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Employers have learned to cope with the coronavirus regime and have taken back workers as the rate of contagion has fallen. Nevertheless, the NII data show which segments of the population have been hurt more and which employers have shown more labor flexibility.

The NII survey, which examined what happened to 875,000 Israelis who began getting jobless benefits starting last March, with the outbreak of the pandemic, also found that employees who were put on unpaid leave from bigger businesses were less likely to have gone back to their jobs than those employed in small businesses – the exception being those who worked in a business that employed fewer than five people.

Non-Haredi Jewish workers were more likely to have returned to the labor market than other groups, such as Israeli Arabs.

Of the 310,000 who were put on unpaid leave in March but returned to work in May or June, after the first lockdown ended, 38% were still worse off financially than they were before the crisis, having taken a pay cut averaging 24% of their pre-coronavirus pay.

The NII noted that the survey didn’t take into account how many hours these workers were working after they returned to their jobs, only how much they were paid. Some of the decline could be explained by parents electing to work less since their children were home as a result of schools being closed. That means that the pay cut was lower than the headline figure.

However, the data showed that male workers suffered on average a bigger pay cut after they returned to work (41%) than women did (36%). Arab workers suffered bigger cuts (42%) than Jews did (37%).

The youngest workers, those up to age 25, on average were more likely to see their salaries drop (43%) and suffered the biggest pay cut (28%) of all age groups. The group that got hit next hardest were those over age 65, with 39% of them taking a pay cut that averaged 22%.

Among those in the middle age ranges, 36-37% saw their wages drop by an average of 21-22%, the NII said. Those who had been paid a higher wage before being put on unpaid leave were less likely to get paid less when they returned to work than those earning lower salaries. However, on the whole the higher the wage someone earned, the more likely it was to be cut.

Large employers, defined as those with payrolls of more than 1,000, were more likely to bring back workers at average lower pay than smaller employers. So, for example, businesses with a payroll of between six and 20 staff were the least likely to lower workers’ pay upon taking them back. Big employers were also more likely to impose bigger pay cuts.

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