Ethiopian Israelis Earn 35% Less Than Average, but the Gap Is Shrinking

Younger generation of Ethiopian Israelis faring much better than immigrants who came as adults, Taub Center finds.

Ilan Assayag

Israelis of Ethiopian origin have an average gross household income that is 35% less than that the overall average of Israeli households, according to a study of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies. The data also show that the community has made major strides in employment and education. The gaps are shrinking, the study found, but are not about to disappear altogether.

Ethiopian-Israeli households had an average gross monthly income in 2013 of 11,453 shekels ($3,045) compared to a national average of 17,711 shekels ($4,710). The difference is apparently the result of disparities in levels of education and employment, according to the study, which was based on an analysis of data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

When it comes to employment the Taub study found that the rate of employment of Ethiopian Israelis in the primary employment years, between the ages of 25 and 54, rose significantly around the period from 2009 to 2011, to 72%, but was still somewhat lower than the comparable rate of 79% for the Jewish population of the country as a whole.

The increase in employment rates was seen for both men and women, but over the years the increase among women was particularly marked: just 35% in the period from 1998 to 2000; rising to 65% in the period from 2009 to 2011. The transformation of the Ethiopians’ employment picture was also reflected in a rise in the number of full-time as opposed to part-time employees.

On the other hand, only 9% of Ethiopian Israelis who moved to Israel at an older age are employed in highly-skilled occupations compared to 21% who were born in Israel or moved as young children and 39% of the rest of the Jewish population, according to the most recent available statistics.

Only 20% of Ethiopian Jews who were born in Israel or came here at a young age have a higher education degree, while the figure for the Jewish population as a whole is 40%. For those Ethiopian Israelis who have higher education degrees, their rates of integration into highly skilled jobs are about the same as the Israeli Jewish population in general, the researchers, Hadas Fuchs and Gilad Brand, found, although they are underrepresented in managerial positions.

Among Ethiopian-born Israelis who immigrated after the age of 12 approximately 50% of working women and 17% of working men are employed in positions involving cleaning or kitchen duties, a much higher proportion than that of the general Israeli Jewish population.

There are an estimated 135,500 Ethiopian Israelis, including immigrants from Ethiopia, most of whom were brought to Israel in airlifts in 1984 and 1991, and their descendants. Difficulties being experienced by the Ethiopian community have been front and center on the Israeli public agenda recently, highlighted by a number of demonstrations, especially in Tel Aviv, by Ethiopian Israelis protesting discrimination.

When it comes to finishing high school, the situation of the younger generation is encouraging, the Taub study found. “The high school graduation rate among Ethiopian Israelis who moved to Israel at an older age is only 36%. In comparison, the rate of high school graduates among those who were educated in Israel is about 90%, a similar rate to the rest of the Jewish population” the Taub Center reported.

“When examining the wages of Ethiopian Israelis with an academic degree, one can see that despite their integration into the upper echelons of the labor market, their income is lower than other earners in this category. These gaps apparently are caused by a high concentration in the academic fields and professions with relatively lower wages. For example, many Ethiopian Israelis with an academic degree who are categorized as working in ‘occupations requiring a high skill level’ have chosen careers as social workers and teachers, where the wages are relatively low.

“This finding suggests that there may be less access to the academic fields and professions considered more prestigious and which lead to higher wages,” the Taub Center reported.