Israel’s overall unemployment rate dipped slightly last month, but remains high compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to a new report released on Sunday by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).
The overall unemployment rate stood at 7.8 percent in the second half of August 2021, down slightly from 8.1% in the first half of the month. This figure includes people who were dismissed or whose workplaces have closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic, as well as those on unpaid leave who expect to return to their workplaces.
A total of 333,500 people were either unemployed or on unpaid leave due to COVID-19 in the second half of August, according to the CBS, down from 349,600 in the first half of the month.
The unemployment rate, excluding those affected by the pandemic, stood at 5.6%, up from 5.3% in the first half of August.
Before the pandemic, an estimated 150,000 Israelis, or 3.5%, were unemployed.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the new figures on Sunday and appeared to link them to a broader government decision to avoid another lockdown. Israel remains largely open, with some restrictions, amid a fourth wave of infections brought on by the Delta variant.
“When the country is open — unemployment goes down,” Bennett said in a statement issued by his office on Sunday.
“Hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs expect us not to give in to the mentality of more and more lockdowns and sweeping and destructive restrictions,” he added, calling to “persist in the policy of life alongside the coronavirus, and to find solutions instead of broadly damaging livelihoods.”
Israel has some restrictions in place, such as limits on gatherings, but Bennett has resisted harsher measures, even as the number of COVID patients requiring ventilators recently climbed to levels not seen in Israel in months.
According to a report on Saturday, Bennett has declined to impose more restrictions on gatherings, arguing that these would harm the economy and not reduce morbidity.
“The government policy is an open Israel alongside an unrelenting and sophisticated war against the virus. Not quarantines, lockdowns, more and more restrictions, which is the easiest thing to do, but solutions,” Bennett said, according to the Ynet news site.
He was said to have told the heads of Israel’s HMOs that their focus must continue to be pushing the vaccinations.
Tensions between health officials and cabinet members have reportedly risen in recent days, as the officials have warned of the need for further restrictions on the public, which the ministers have resisted.
As of August 2021, there were currently over 134,000 job vacancies nationwide, indicating a gap between employers and job-seekers, and a need for retraining for some of those not in the workforce.
The rate of open vacancies remained high in the hospitality industry, as well as in the engineering and web development fields.
In July, the government ended unemployment benefits for most people under the age of 45 who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, following in a stormy Knesset session.
At the time, the National Insurance Institute said that Israel had paid out over NIS 39 billion ($12 billion) in unemployment benefits to 1.2 million Israelis since the start of the pandemic.
According to the National Insurance Institute, anyone who became unemployed after July 1 would be assessed according to the standard unemployment laws that existed pre-COVID. But the period of time an employee must have worked before being able to claim unemployment was lowered from 12 months to six months.
Luke Tress contributed to this report.