As virus lockdown eased, number returning to work surpasses newly unemployed

Employment Service reports 10,193 went back to work in past 24 hours, just 2,523 registered as job seekers; overall, more than a million are jobless

People walk and shop at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on May 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People walk and shop at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on May 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

For the first time since the coronavirus lockdown began to ravage the economy, the number of people who returned to work over the past 24 hours was significantly higher than those who registered as unemployed, the National Employment Service reported Monday.

By 4 p.m. in the afternoon, 10,193 people had reentered the workforce since Sunday, while just 2,523 registered as job seekers.

The figure of reemployed could be even higher, as many of those who started working have not yet reported their change in status, said Employment Service director general Rami Garor.

“This is the first day that we are seeing a situation that could be a sign of a positive trend, as the number of those returning to the workforce is clearly higher than the number leaving it, according to what is reported to us,” Garor said.

As the number of new infections has slowed dramatically, the government has begun loosening the restrictions that contained the pandemic while also bringing the economy to a near standstill. Unemployment figures leaped from a record low of 4 percent at the beginning of March to over 25% at beginning of April, as many businesses were forced to close their doors while the public was ordered off the streets.

As a result, the number of unemployed surpassed 1,000,000 for the first time in Israel’s history, with many employees put on unpaid leave.

Since April 19, there were 30,808 reports of people returning to work, the service said. At the same time, some 70,000 joined the ranks of the unemployed.

Garor said that due to the uncertainty as to how many people exactly have returned to work, the service would not publish current unemployment numbers.

Channel 12 reported that National Insurance Agency figures for the period since mid-April show that over 50,000 people have gone back to work.

Garor urged those who have returned to work to quickly update the Employment Service via its website to avoid bureaucratic complications with the National Insurance Agency.

People walk on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Garor said the Employment Service is poised to begin an emergency plan aimed at reducing unemployment by working with employers who are looking for workers.

Meanwhile, Israel has seen escalating protests by self-employed workers and small business owners against what they have deemed as the government’s insufficient economic response in helping them survive the pandemic.

The government has established a special fund for small businesses and self-employed loans worth NIS 80 billion. It has received 48,000 applications for NIS 31 billion in loan requests, but only 14,500 of the applications have been accepted and only NIS 4.6 billion has been distributed, Channel 12 reported.

Large businesses have also demanded government help, and last week some 200 major chains kept their stores closed in protest of not receiving compensation as was being offered to smaller businesses. They reopened after the government said it would allocate an additional NIS 6 billion ($1.7 billion) — not included in the current NIS 80 billion stimulus package — to help hundreds them return their employees to the workforce.

Monday’s positive employment figures came as the cabinet convened to approve a further easing of coronavirus restrictions, with the number of infections in the country having dropped considerably.

According to various Hebrew media reports, malls and outdoor markets could be allowed to reopen as early as Thursday, while other aspects of the plan could come into effect on Friday.

The government will have the authority to reimpose restrictions in certain areas in case of a renewed outbreak, to avoid locking down the whole country again, the reports said.

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