New statistics indicate that after years of growth the number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel’s workforce has begun to decline.
The Israel Democracy Institute, citing official figures, said Monday that ultra-Orthodox male employment dropped from 51.7 percent in 2016 to 50.3% in 2017, halting a steady rise.
The rate was below 40% in 2001, but remains well below the OECD employment rate of over 80%. Ultra-orthodox women are better integrated, according to earlier statistics by the Bank of Israel, with their employment levels rising from below 50% in 2001 to close to 70% in 2016, above the OECD average of 60%.
Gilad Malach, an institute researcher who specializes in the community, said the main cause is renewed subsidies to seminary students provided by a government that relies on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties.
For decades, the ultra-Orthodox have leveraged their significant political power into maintaining a segregated lifestyle. They run a separate network of schools, enjoy sweeping military draft exemptions and raise large families on taxpayer-funded handouts.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study, and that integration into the secular military and workforce will undermine their lifestyle.
With high birth rates and high unemployment levels, the ultra-Orthodox community is among the poorest in Israel. But previous government programs, and a push from within, have led to increased integration.
The Taub Center’s State of the Nation Report for 2016 indicated that from 2008 to 2014, the number of ultra-Orthodox enrolled in academic learning institutions rose almost three-fold, from 1,222 to 3,227. Some 1,600 ultra-Orthodox women and 450 men graduated with academic degrees in 2014, compared to only some 650 women and 200 men in 2012.
The Bank of Israel has warned that the low employment rates among ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women in particular were hindering the country’s long-term growth prospects. Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s 8 million citizens and the ultra-Orthodox are about 10%. Both are among the fastest-growing segments of society.