Israel on Wednesday registered more than a million jobless citizens for the first time in its existence, as the coronavirus pandemic was putting more and more workplaces out of business.
The National Employment Service said that the number of unemployed stood at 1,004,316, with 35,668 new people registering for its services on Tuesday — the highest daily figure since last Thursday.
Almost a quarter of Israel’s workforce — 24.1 percent — is now jobless, including some 160,000 people who had been unemployed before the crisis.
“Unfortunately, our forecasts have been proven true and we reached a million job-seekers in March,” said Employment Service director general Rami Garor.
He said his organization was working to “create circumstances” in which the unemployment rate could be lowered and the job market could gradually reopen as much as possible.
While salaried workers are covered up to 75% of their earnings for a limited period of time, Israel’s self-employed workers are not entitled to unemployment benefits. The government is working on a package that is expected to give some 175,000 self-employed people a grant of up to NIS 6,000 ($1,675) with an average expected payment of NIS 4,300 ($1,200).
Israel has unveiled a NIS 80 billion ($22.5 billion) economic rescue plan to help the economy survive the pandemic.
Garor welcomed the plan, but stressed that stipends weren’t the goal but rather a mechanism to help people survive financially until they can work again.
Among those seeking state benefits, 89.8% have been placed on unpaid leave by their workplaces, while 6.3% were fired, according to the National Employment Service.
The month of March was the worst by far for Israel’s job market since unemployment data started being collated. Only a month ago, before the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment in Israel was at a record low of under 4%.
In the early weeks of the outbreak, some 7,000 Israelis were registering every hour, crashing the National Employment Service’s website.
The Central Bureau of Statistics will publish separate data on unemployment, which is the official rate, and is likely to be slightly lower than the National Employment Service’s figures.
Garor said on Sunday that by the end of that day it would complete the procedure of processing and handing over the details of 734,049 people to the National Insurance Institute, the body that pays out the benefits, “so that the citizens of Israel will be able to receive the unemployment benefits they are entitled to as quickly as possible, even before Passover.”
Last week, Garor said he expected around 20% of the newly unemployed would not have a job to go back to when the crisis ends and lockdown measures are eventually lifted.