Deprived in a land of plenty: While the overall standard of living in Israel has risen this year, a report published Thursday by the National Insurance Institute (NII) indicated that poverty in Israel
has not shown a commensurate decline.
The news was somewhat unexpected given the fact that there have been wages and employment rates have been on the rise which has led to a higher standard of living in the country.
Researchers were also surprised to find a 2% increase in poverty indicators among Israel’s elderly, which constitute 20% of all Israeli households. There is also a continuing trend of impoverishment among working families, which can be explained by low-income jobs as well as part-time employment.
In spite of an increase in pensioner’s benefits, the NII report indicated that Israel’s elderly are not faring any better financially. The Insurance Institute had initially anticipated that raising pensioner’s benefits would decrease the levels of poverty among Israel’s aged. They were surprised to see a 2% overall increase in impoverishment among the elderly in spite of this stipend hike. The NII hopes that the stipend increase will have a more definitive impact on Israeli pensioners in the future.
Poverty levels remained relatively stable in 2006-2007, the report showed. Roughly 20.5% of Israeli families live below the poverty line in 2008, a slight increase from last year’s 20%. Moreover, 24.7% of Israel’s residents and 35.9% of its children live in impoverished families.
Families with multiple children appear to be hardest hit, with 60% of all families with four children or more living beneath the poverty line. Jerusalem and the outer periphery towns of the north and south appear to be hardest hit by poverty.
Data for the 2006-2007 NII survey indicated that 420,000 impoverished families currently reside in Israel, including some 805,000 children. Poverty indicators for families with a single wage-earner have risen from 22.6% during the last NII survey to 23.9% in the current one.
Paradoxically, Israelis’ standard of living appears to be on the rise, as is the number of working individuals in the country, which has risen by some 2% since 2006. Real wages earned by Israelis have also increased by some 1.6%. Minimum wages in Israel have also increased by nearly 3.6%.
Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Eli Yishai (Shas) reacted to the Insurance Institute’s report by saying that “Shas will not stay in a government that turns it back on our children. Even the National Insurance Institute has resolutely determined that increasing government stipends is the only way to end this vicious cycle of poverty. It is a shame that this is a perspective light years removed from other government ministries.”
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said in reaction to the report that “the harshest statistic appearing in this report has to do with the working poor. This illustrates a gravitation of our market towards greedy contractors which employee individuals at below minimum wage and make employment statistics obsolete.”
Also commenting on the report, MK Chaim Oron of the Meretz Party noted that “the government prides itself on ending poverty, but it only works to increase it, especially among children and working individuals. The government must work extensively to treat the underlying causes of poverty in Israel, and prevent our country from leading the world’s industrialized, Western nations in poverty statistics.”