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Head of jobs service warns of ‘lost generation’ as unemployment rates soar

With fresh lockdown, over 120,000 Israelis register as job-seekers in past week — most for the second time this year, and mainly women

People walk next to closed shops on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on September 23, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People walk next to closed shops on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on September 23, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The head of Israel’s Employment Service, Rami Garor, warned of a prospective “lost generation” of young workers on Thursday, amid soaring joblessness rates caused by the coronavirus pandemic and new lockdown restrictions.

Unemployment rates surged to historic highs during the first wave of the pandemic in Israel in the spring, before abating as the outbreak came under control. With the rampant second wave outbreak in recent months, and the latest restrictions and lockdowns, the joblessness rate has again spiked.

“Hundreds of thousands have not yet returned to work since March, including employees in sectors that were badly hurt by the crisis,” Garor said in a statement.

“As we warned, such a long unemployment period is likely to force hundreds of thousands into ‘chronic unemployment,’ to create a lost generation of young people experiencing long-term unemployment, as well as other repercussions,” he said.

“We must do everything to ensure that the return to work after the lockdown is fast, otherwise the ramifications will linger for a long time,” he said.

According to Employment Service figures released Thursday, a staggering 854,367 Israelis are registered as job-seekers, of whom 522,191 are on unpaid leave.

The figure, already sky-high, jumped in the past week as new lockdown restrictions went into effect. Since September 17, the onset of the Rosh Hashanah holiday and new restrictions, 120,752 Israelis registered as job-seekers — 110,652 of whom were on unpaid leave.

The Employment Service said that the majority — 93,766 — were registering for the second time since the start of the pandemic, with 70 percent being women. The crisis has hit certain employment sectors particularly hard, including education, retail, restaurants and events.

A medic works in the underground parking lot of Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus, which was transformed into an intensive care facility for coronavirus patients, on September 23, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The service did not provide a figure for the share of workers who are unemployed. During the first outbreak of the virus in Israel, in the spring, the unemployment figures issued by the service spiked to over 23, percent as 800,000 quickly lost work in Israel’s initial lockdown.

As the outbreak subsided, some people were able to return to work, but with infections surging, the government has imposed fresh restrictions, with another round of even tighter rules set to be implemented Friday.

At the start of the year, before the pandemic, unemployment in Israel was at a record low of under 4%.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who heads the government’s coronavirus response, reiterated on Thursday his opposition to additional lockdown restrictions, warning the economic harm will be tremendous.

The harsh measures are set to come into force on Friday at 2 p.m., and will see nearly all businesses closed, prayers and public protests severely curtailed, public transportation scaled back dramatically and Israelis ordered to remain close to home with fewer exceptions than under the existing limitations.

The decision to tighten lockdown measures follows recommendations by the so-called coronavirus cabinet on Wednesday night and was approved in a full cabinet vote Thursday morning. It is set to win final approval in Knesset legislation later Thursday.

Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron also protested the decision as causing too much damage to the economy.

The Health Ministry said Thursday morning that 6,808 new virus cases were diagnosed a day earlier. It was the second day in a row that the number of new cases neared 7,000.

The ministry said that a notably high 12.9% of the tests that came back Wednesday were positive. There were 54,364 tests carried out.

The total number of cases since the start of the pandemic stood at 206,332, with 1,335 deaths.

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