One in Seven Israelis Has Felt Poor, Survey Says

The statistics bureau finds many people forsaking food, heating and dental treatment, especially Israeli Arabs.

Moti Bassok
Moti Bassok
An impoverished woman searches for vegetables in Jerusalem garbage.
An impoverished woman searches for vegetables in Jerusalem garbage.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Moti Bassok
Moti Bassok

One in seven Israelis over age 20 has felt poor over the past year, according to a survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics released Tuesday. Many people say they can’t afford food, heating and other necessities.

The survey, which was based on questions asked last year, actually shows that fewer Israelis — 14.5% — felt they were poor than were actually living under the poverty line as estimated by the National Insurance Institute — 19.4% of families and 23.5% of individuals.

Only 725,300 Israelis felt poor, while 1.75 million were living under the poverty line, which is defined as half the median income per person — this halfway number is 2,256 shekels ($605) a month. The poverty figures are part of a wider survey that the statistics bureau is conducting.

The figures provide further evidence that Israel is failing to address its high poverty rate despite its strong economic growth. Earlier this year, the War on Poverty Committee recommended a host of measures to address the problem, but the government budgeted for just a fraction of them to get under way next year.

The statistics bureau found that the poverty feeling was far more prevalent among Israeli Arabs, of whom 29% felt poor during the past year, compared with just 12% of Israeli Jews. Among Jews, this feeling was most prevalent among the ultra-Orthodox, of whom 22% said they felt poor. That compared with 10% for secular Jews and other religious Jews.

In Jerusalem, 45% of Arab residents reported feeling impoverished, as did 18% of Jews, even though the city has a high proportion of ultra-Orthodox Jews. In B’nei Brak, another heavily ultra-Orthodox community, the number was only 15%.

Among Israel’s biggest cities, Rishon Letzion residents were the least likely to feel they had lived in poverty over the past year, with a rate of just 5%.

Meanwhile, 16% of Israelis reported that they had forgone food purchases because they could not afford it. In Jerusalem, the percentage was 27% — 34% for the city’s Arab population. In Bnei Brak the number was 22%; in Ashdod in the south it was 18%. In the Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan the number was just 7%, while in Tel Aviv itself it was 6%.

Some 11% of Israelis said they had forsaken a hot meal at least once every two days during the past year because they couldn't afford it.

In the poll, heating and air conditioning were sacrificed by many Israelis for financial reasons. In Jerusalem, the figure was 58%, more than twice the rate in Tel Aviv at 27%. Some 42% of Israelis didn’t seek the dental treatment they needed because they couldn’t afford it, although in Tel Aviv the rate was half that.

Far fewer, however, avoided medical treatment for financial reasons – just 13%.

But a much larger 24% said they had failed to pay bills such as electricity, water, telephone and gas on time because they didn’t have the money.

The statistics bureau found that over the last decade the percentage of Israelis at risk of falling into poverty was higher than in other developed countries. In 2012, about 30% of Israelis were at risk – a figure based on households where disposable income per person was less than 60% the median.

In the European Union, only 17% of the population was at risk. Even in Greece and Spain, the countries with the highest risk rates, the numbers were just 23% and 22%, respectively.

The risk rate in Israel for single-parent families was 41%, compared with 36% across the European Union. Among children the risk was 39%, almost twice the 20% average for the EU.

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