When it comes to symbolism, Jerusalem gets the Israeli government’s attention. In the past year alone, it has lobbied for the United States to move its embassy to the capital, helped arrange to have a leg of the Giro d’Italia bicycle race held there, and unsuccessfully sought to move a high-profile soccer match between Israel and Argentina to the city.
But while the government never forgets Jerusalem when it comes to symbols, the city’s socioeconomic ranking has been falling steadily. On Wednesday, the Central Bureau of Statistics said it slid another notch to Cluster 2, the second-lowest group out of 10.
The latest decline follows a rapid descent for Jerusalem on the CBS rankings. Two years ago it fell from fourth lowest decile to third lowest, in 2004 from fifth lowest decile to fourth lowest.
The CBS ranking is not about the city’s finances but about its residents. It measures a host of factors like average levels of education, standard of living, rate of employment, percentage of families with four or more children and percentage of elderly getting income support.
The CBS even looks at obscure data like the number of days a year residents spend on vacations or business abroad, and how much they pay on average to renew their car registration. The latter figure gives an indirect indicator of family wealth because the fee goes down with the age of the car. That, says the CBS, helps detect unreported income.
The CBS rankings, which are published every two years, have become a sort of status symbol for residents of the 255 local authorities and 982 other communities covered in the survey. Savyon, the tony Tel Aviv suburb, ranked the highest in the latest survey while the Bedouin local authority Midbar Hanegev was the lowest.
Jerusalem wasn’t the only city to see its ranking fall; seven others did as well, while 26 raised theirs. Moreover, Jerusalem’s parameters haven’t declined so much as others have improved more quickly. For instance, the city’s median income level rose since the last survey.
Status or not, for municipal officials, there is a practical incentive to push for a lower ranking. Local authorities get more government aid for things like daycare subsidies the lower their socioeconomic profile.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which was ranked right, has sought to get the CBS to counts its big population of asylum seekers in its survey, which would give a more accurate picture of the city’s population and entitle it to more aid. Menachem Leibe, the city’s director general, said when the last survey was released in 2016 said its eight ranking was “a serious distortion of reality.”
The CBS answered that it couldn’t gather quality data on asylum seekers and that was why it had left them out.
When Jerusalem’s ranking fell to three in 2016, the city expressed satisfaction. “Putting Jerusalem in Cluster 3 more faithfully reflects the city, as we have sought for some time, and will enable us to get bigger budgets for Jerusalem and improve distributive justice,” it said.
This week, however, the city was less happy with its downgrade, saying the index contained “serious distortions” and “even partial data from 2015.”
It said programs by the city has led to a decline in unemployment and poverty and a rise in the labor force participation rate, including in the high-tech industry. Fewer young families are leaving the city and money has been invested in infrastructure and public translation.
“Mayor [Nir] Barkat has an uncompromising campaign with the Finance Ministry to increase budgets to Jerusalem to maintain these positive trends,” a city spokesman said. “Unfortunately, the writing has been on the wall for years, and the treasury… has never presented a strategic plan for the capital. Increasing the budget to the capital is a national interest of the highest importance.”
With reporting by Hagai Amit
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