While Israeli ultra-Orthodox women have made strides in entering the workforce, already surpassing a government target of 63 percent set for 2020, the employment of Haredi men has been a slower process and remains “far from government aims,” a report by the Finance Ministry shows.
The employment rate of ultra-Orthodox men now stands at 51%, 12 percentage points away from the government target, also of 63% in 2020, and the rise appears to have been halted with the gap between this population and non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish men remaining “particularly high,” at 37 percentage points, the report said.
Israeli policy makers have been pushing for the employment of a greater number of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, men and women, but the number remains low compared to the general population.
Their low employment rates present a threat to the economy due to lower state revenues from taxes and higher grants and subsidies to this segment of the population, as it also tends to be poorer. The low employment rates and higher poverty levels contribute to inequality in society.
As a result, since the start of the 2000s, Israeli governments have promoted a number of initiatives meant to boost integration of the Haredi population into the labor market, by setting out economic incentives, creating special routes for military and civilian service which many jobs require, promoting vocational training and higher education, setting up guidance centers for employment counseling and assisting with placement.
But whereas these programs managed to make a difference for some 15 years, and employment rates rose through the fourth quarter of 2015, in the past 18 months the rise in the employment of ultra-Orthodox men “has been halted,” the report said, and there is concern that it will not resume at the same rate as before.
Either way, even with a growth rate similar to that of the past five years, the government target will not be achieved before 2030, the report said.
A possible reason for the relatively low success of integrating Haredi men into the labor market is their different approach to perceiving the role of work in their set of priorities, the report said. The study of the Torah, or the scriptures, rather than going out to work, is seen as the central value of Haredi society and is perceived as one of the most significant factors affecting their well-being. Studying the Torah grants the students social prestige, even if it means they are left out of the labor market and part of a lower economic stratum of the population.
Haredi women, on the other hand, have a higher perception of the importance of work, the report said, and that is reflected in the figures. Ultra-Orthodox women are rapidly approaching the employment rate of non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, the report said.
To boost employment levels, better incentives must be provided for the sector, the report recommended, along with a better matching of the scope of work and the fields of work to its needs.