The Invisible Men (And Women) on the Unemployment Line

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz brags that Israel's jobless rate is one of the lowest in the world. But what he doesn't tell you is the numbers of people who are underemployed or have no prospects of finding relevant jobs.

What's Israel's unemployment rate? If you ask Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, you'll be told it's 6.5% - one of the lowest rates in the world.

Steinitz justifiably celebrated when the Central Bureau of Statistics published that number, and didn't hesitate to say "I told you so" because, "as I said a week ago, the employment market is working well."

But if you ask Michal Tzuk that same question, you'll get an entirely different answer. Tzuk is the head of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's employment bureau, which was launched only this year. And while Tzuk relies on the figures from the statistics bureau, she interprets them a little differently.

In particular, Tzuk says it's important to ask whether the official unemployment count should merely include the job-seekers who can't find work, or whether there are others who should be included in the statistics just as well.

Settling for part-time work

The employment bureau contends that there are two kinds of invisible unemployment. The first is those people with part-time jobs - who thus aren't considered unemployed - but who would prefer to be working full-time. Tzuk's figures indicate that there are a great many of these people.Settling for part-time workAnd what's especially concerning is that this phenomenon is particularly prevalent among women, and more so for Haredi and Arab women: 6.3% of all Haredi women are working part-time because they can't find full-time work; for Arab women, that figure is 14.3%.

Why are women having to settle for part-time work? The answer obviously involves discrimination and the fact that women generally are responsible for raising the family's children. Thus they pay the price of balancing household needs with employment.

Both Arab and ultra-Orthodox women tend to have particularly large families and therefore particularly large burdens.

In addition, both groups face specific circumstances that limit their job options. Most ultra-Orthodox women, for example, study in teaching seminaries, but since the Haredi sector doesn't need quite that many teachers, many are forced to settle for the scraps of teaching jobs they can get.

The state, aware of this problem, has delicately started down the path over the past two years of broadening the instruction at Haredi seminaries to include other subjects, including those relating to high-tech.

For Arab women, the problem apparently is more complicated, and it stems from societal limitations that prevent them from working outside their home villages, as well as lack of education, lack of public transportation in their areas, lack of daycare, and a lack of nearby employment options.

Hard for Arab women

Given these constraints, it's very difficult for many Arab women to find work. Thus, in order to address this problem, the state needs to invest in public transportation, workplaces and child care.

The second type of hidden unemployment is even more problematic. These are the people who aren't counted in the employment figures because they've finally given up looking for work.

Frustration can be tough, especially when it's a matter of a person's livelihood. And what's particularly worrisome is that this phenomenon, too, is prevalent among a specific sector - Arabs. Some 5.1% of Arab men and 6.7% of women have given up on trying to find work.

Why are Arabs giving up?

We can presume it stems from all the issues mentioned above, with the exception of education. Statistics indicate that settling for lesser jobs is particularly common among Arabs with higher education, less than half of whom find jobs in their field.

In other words, Arabs lack a supply of relevant jobs, and we can only surmise whether this is due to discrimination. It's no wonder that they become frustrated by their prospects of finding a job, not to mention one that's actually in their field.

Once you take into account these "hidden" factors, it turns out that the real unemployment rate - or, to be more precise, the percentage of people who are doing very poorly in the workforce - is significantly higher than official figures indicate.

While the official unemployment rate in 2010 was 5.8% (before the statistics bureau revised that figure ), it actually works out to 10.2% once you factor in all the problems mentioned above, according to some number crunching by the employment bureau.

That's nearly twice as much. And while the bureau hasn't run the numbers for the current job market, the percentage of under-employed or exasperated workers is much higher still, probably closer to 11.5%.

That's not a number to be proud of anymore.