The poverty rate in Israel took a slight turn for the worse
in 1998, but the figures do not show any significant
deterioration and some groups showed an improvement,
according to a report published on Monday by the National
Insurance Institute (NII) and presented by Minister of Labor
Eli Yishai at a press conference in his office.
It found that the number of poor grew to 18 percent of the
population, or 276,000 families with about 1.021 million
people, up from 17.8% in 1997. A large proportion of these
were children, and the number of children living under the
poverty line was said to be about 440,000.
The rates took into account transfer payments and other aid.
The figures were based on a "poverty line" set at 50% of the
median disposable income, which for a family of four was NIS
3,831 (in current shekels -- about $912).
After taking into account transfer payments, the poverty rate
rose in the five years to 1994, then fell slightly in the two
subsequent years. "The year 1998 was marked by relative
stability in the incidence of poverty in Israel," the NII
In fact, the poverty rate fell for two key categories last
year. For families headed by an elderly person, the rate fell
sharply to 18.7% from 21.5% in 1997 and in absolute terms
dropped to 63,000 families from 70,000. The rate for single-
parent families dropped to 24.7% from 27.6%.
For large families, defined as those with four children or
more, the rate remained essentially the same, dropping
slightly to 35% from 36% of all such families.
The NII said the 1998 figures for the first time counted east
Jerusalem, the self-employed, and people living in non-urban
areas. But analysts said the wider survey did not affect the
overall results by much and in making its 1997/98
comparisons, the NII adjusted for the differences in the
On a city-by-city basis, Bnei Brak topped the poverty list,
with 35.2% of its inhabitants listed as living under the
poverty line versus 26.5% in 1997. Of the families in Bnei
Brak, 28.5% were considered poor last year compared to 21.9%
the year before.
Herzliya, among the cities, had the least poverty, with only
3.3% of its inhabitants under the line, up from 3.2% in
Jerusalem ranked No. 2 in poverty with an incidence of 33.4%,
versus 29.1 % in 1997. This was 27.1% of the families,
compared to 23.9% the year before. Without east Jerusalem,
the figure dropped to 19.7% from 18.1% in 1997, although that
still made the capital the second most impoverished city.
The third poorest city was Beer Sheva. Poverty also rose
there from 15.6% of the population in '97 to 18.7% of the
people last year. This was 22.1% of the families.
Next in order were Ashdod -- 17.8% (18.6% in '97) of the
population and 18% (20%) of the families; Ashkelon -- 17.3%
(11.4% in '97) of the population and 16.2% (12.3%) of the
families; Netanya -- 16% (21.3% in '97) of the population and
15.8% (20.9%) of the families; Haifa -- 12.8% of the
population; Bat Yam -- 13.2% of the population; Rechovot --
11% of the population; Tel Aviv -- 12.9% of the population.
The cities were ranked by the number of families living in
Although the NII report did not detect any significant
changes in the poverty level, it came after a slew of other
reports documenting, to varying degrees of accuracy, growing
unemployment, poverty, and income inequality.
The NII report also arrived as the government is in the final
stretch of guiding its 2000 budget through the Knesset, amid
lobbying by coalition partners to increase spending. The
government is limited by its commitment to keep the budget
deficit to 2.5% of gross domestic product next year.
The NII findings stirred a slew of recriminations and counter-
recriminations between government and opposition, a tirade
complicated by the fact the figures relate to a year when the
Netanyahu government was in power, though in coalition with
many parties that are now sitting in Ehud Barak's cabinet.
"[The poverty figures] are exactly the reason that we were
chosen by the public, to fundamentally change the situation.
I am determined that the government we head will change it,"
"A healthy society cannot allow itself numbers like that,"
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Eli Yishai told a press
conference, warning that support by the poor in a referendum
on a prospective Golan Heights withdrawal could be
Industry and Trade Minister Ran Cohen (Meretz) attacked his
coalition partners Shas, the National Religious Party, and
Yisrael Ba'aliya for their role in failing to cope with the
situation when they sat in the Netanyahu government. He
called for more government spending next year to create
Cohen was joined by the Likud, which called on the government
to withdraw the state budget in favor of a spending package
that would better grapple with the poverty issue.
Although the rate of poverty did not show much change,
experts said Israel fared poorly in comparison with other
developed economies and that its income support programs are
weaker than those in Europe.
"There's a very high level of poverty in Israel, particularly
child poverty," said John Gal, a lecturer at the Hebrew
University School of Social Work.
The NII figures generally showed that transfer payments from
the government to poor families cut the poverty rate: for
example, the incidence of poverty for families fell by more
than half from 34.1% to 16.4% after taking into account
But Gal said that in Europe income support programs generally
cut the poverty rate by 70%-80%. "[Israeli] government policy
doesn't provide the means to bring families above the poverty
line," he said.
Experts linked the high level of poverty both to high
unemployment -- the jobless rate is now over 9% -- and low
wages, which push those at the bottom of the salary scale
below the poverty line.
One university economist said the poverty rate is exacerbated
by the high correlation between large families and families
with a single income earner, which is more typically the case
in the Arab and chareidi communities. He said two-income
families tend to have fewer children.
Gal warned that although economic activity has been picking
up in recent months after a three-year slowdown, the effects
are unlikely to trickle down into the poorest.