1.8 million Israelis, 842,000 of them children, under poverty line — report

In Jerusalem, over half of children impoverished, annual study says; country sees improvements, but situation still ‘grave’ by OECD standards

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

People walk by a homeless man sleeping on the street, near cafes in the center of Jerusalem. November 10, 2013. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90/File)
People walk by a homeless man sleeping on the street, near cafes in the center of Jerusalem. November 10, 2013. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90/File)

Some 1.8 million Israelis, including 842,300 children, were living in poverty in 2016, according to new figures released by the National Insurance Institute this month.

The poorest region in the country continued to be Jerusalem, where some 55 percent of children live under the poverty line (down from 58% in 2015), followed by northern and southern Israel.

The annual report underlined improvements in reducing poverty and inequality compared to previous years, though Israel remained in a worrisome position by Western standards, it said.

“Despite the marked improvements in the poverty and inequality rates in 2016, and a drop of a full percentage point in two years in the incidence of poverty among individuals even according to OECD calculations, Israel’s relative position internationally continues to be grave,” it said.

An Israeli woman searches for objects of worth in a garbage container in the center of Jerusalem. February 16, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“In the rankings of OECD countries, Israel continues to place at the top of the poverty scale,” it said. “At the same time, in terms of inequality, its position is better.”

Being poor in the State of Israel in 2016, for an individual, meant taking home a net monthly paycheck of NIS 3,260 ($920) or less; for a couple, earning less than NIS 5,216 ($1,480); and for a family of five, less than NIS 10,000 ($2,800).

The report saw fewer impoverished Arab families compared to the previous year (falling from 53.5% to 49.4%), though the ultra-Orthodox still represented 15% of poor families in the country, three times above their share of the Israeli families in the general population.

A homeless man asks for money on the streets in the center of Jerusalem. April 13, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The report for the first time in four years obtained accurate figures on poverty among Israel’s Bedouin population, noting that 58% of the population of 17,000 families, and 70% of its children, live under the poverty line.

As unemployment rates shrank from 5.3% to 4.8% between 2015 and 2016, poverty among the employed rose slightly, while the rates dropped among the unemployed for the first time in years (from 73% to 70%), according to the report.

Among immigrants, the proportion of impoverished dropped from 17.7% in 2015 to 17% in 2016, continuing a years-long trend, it said. However, measures of the depth and severity of poverty among those immigrants continued to be high, it said.

The report marked a 3.8% rise in the Israeli standard of living, adjusting the poverty line accordingly.

Israel’s welfare agency attributed overall positive developments to the government raising of the minimum wage and higher child and elderly welfare allowances, and higher employment rates among Israel’s lower socioeconomic classes. For the latter, it stressed that while more Israelis are employed, their working conditions and salaries still require improvement.

Though it touted the rise in minimum wage, the report stressed that a single mother with one child working full-time at minimum wage and receiving child allowances would still be poor, though her condition is much improved as compared to previous years.

Following the report’s release, opposition lawmakers accused the government of failing to reduce the gaps.

“The uncaring coalition dedicates hundreds of hours to corrupt bills for its own survival, while nearly two million people are living in dire poverty,” said Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich. “This isn’t predestined. If they would dedicate just 10% of their time to this, we could give up our humiliating top spot on the OECD poverty [scale].”

In response to the report, Joint (Arab) List MK Dov Khenin vowed to seek another bump to the minimum wage, which rose this month to NIS 5,300.

“The bleak figures in the poverty report among working families show that the minimum wage is still not sufficiently high and must be raised further,” he said.

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