Israel Falls Short in Attempts to Get More Ultra-Orthodox Men Into Workforce

The percentage of Haredi men who are employed or actively looking for work has fallen in the last two years, treasury report warns

Religious programmers at a high-tech company.
Religious programmers at a high-tech company. Eyal Toueg

The government drive to coax more Israeli ultra-Orthodox men into the workforce seems to have stalled, with the percentage of working-age men from the community who have jobs or are actively pursuing employment today falling far short of the target for 2020.

That was the conclusion of a Finance Ministry study released this week. It said the participation rate for Haredi men in the first half of the year was just 50.9%, some 12 percentage points short of the 63% target set for 2020.

The treasury chief economist, who wrote the report, said that if the rate of growth in the labor participation rate of Haredi men remained unchanged from the pace of the last five years, the 63% target would not be reached until 2030. In fact, their participation rate has fallen in the past two years, and the trend is likely to continue, the report warned.

Concerned about a labor shortage as Israel’s population ages as well as high rates of poverty in the ultra-Orthodox community, the government has sought since the early 2000s to convince more Haredi men to trade full-time religious study far into adulthood for the working life. But in the first half of 2017, there was still a wide gap between Haredi men and other Jewish men of working age in Israel, whose participation rate was 87.6%.

According to the treasury report, government incentive programs, such as opportunities for job training and higher education, have helped to bring more ultra-Orthodox women into the workforce, but they have been less effective with men in the community.

Haredi women, who traditionally have been more likely than Haredi men to work outside the home in order to support their families, reached the government’s employment target for them of 63% by 2020 back in 2012. Their participation rate is closing in on the rate for non-Haredi Israeli Jewish women, the treasury said.

The report pointed to a number of possible reasons for the failure in regard to men, among them the government’s dropping the requirement that parents putting their children into state-sponsored day care prove they are employed.

The study also found evidence that Haredim are more inclined than non-Haredim to refuse an employment offer. A poll of unemployed individuals found that among Haredi men, 96.9% said they would refuse an offer of appropriate employment, compared to 78.3% for non-Haredi men.