The growing economic inequality in Israeli society over the past several years has raised both the poverty rate and the likelihood that members of the middle class will fall into poverty, according to new data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday.
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The data, published to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, indicate that social and economic gaps are continuing to widen. The bureau found that 31% of Israelis were at risk of poverty in 2010, up from 27% in 2000 - a greater increase than that in any European Union country, excepting Germany.
According to the CBS, an individual at risk of poverty is one who is in a household where per capita income is less than 60% of the median disposable income. In money terms, that comes out to anything under NIS 2,316 of income per capita per month. The poverty line in 2010 was NIS 1,931.
In comparison with the EU, Israel's situation is very bad. On average, only 16% of the population in EU countries is at risk of poverty. Even in countries where the economic situation is very precarious, like Greece and Spain, the risk of poverty is much lower than Israel's - 20% in Greece and 21% in Spain.
The major reason why poverty is rising in Israel, despite high levels of employment and education, appears to be the low level of purchasing power. That is a product both of the high cost of living and low salaries. In other words, many Israelis work for a salary on which it is difficult to live in dignity.
According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2010, 40% of all Israelis found it difficult to survive on their salaries. That compares to an OECD average of 24%.
The most recent poverty report published by the National Insurance Institute, which came out about a year ago, also indicated rising poverty rates, especially among younger people. Young families, in which the primary wage earner is under 35, are poorer today than in the past, with 26.8% of them living below the poverty line.