More than 20% of all Israelis and nearly one-third of Israeli children live below the official poverty line according to the country’s National Insurance Institute which released the grim statistics during the last week of 2021.
And, the situation is only expected to worsen due to financial difficulties caused by several previous lockdowns and closing of businesses due to the ongoing COVID pandemic
Overall, some 1.9 million Israelis including 865,000 children were living in poverty in 2020. Poverty was especially prevalent in the capital Jerusalem, the Ashdod and among residents in Judea and Samaria.
While Israel ranks as an affluent economy, it has one of the most uneven distributions of wealth among the world’s advanced economies. Even prior to the COVID crisis, Israel and the U.S. had among the highest proportion of citizens living below the poverty line among the advanced OECD countries.
In 2020, the overall standard of living reportedly increased by some 2.4%, largely due to state welfare payments. However, the report states that poverty is increasing in 2021 due to the government’s cuts in welfare benefits.
“The government’s policy, especially the decision to stop all unemployment benefits, has led to an increase in the poverty rate among the population in 2021 compared to the year before,” the report concludes.
The socioeconomic situation could potentially be even worse. According to the Alternative Poverty Report published by the Israeli NGO LATET, 27.6% of Israelis live below the poverty line and 23.6% of Israeli households are struggling on the brink of poverty. The report stresses that the Israeli middle class is struggling and reportedly shrunk from 58.3% to 48.3% of Israeli households due to the pandemic crisis.
Gilles Darmon, founder and president of LATET, stressed the enormous socioeconomic challenges facing Israeli society amid the pandemic.
“While the main conclusion that emerges from the report is that COVID-19 continues to significantly harm the most vulnerable classes as well as the middle class, it seems that it will still take some more time to measure the full extent of the damage caused by the pandemic in social areas such as education, and its impact on the overt and unseen dropout of students from the system,” Darmon said. “Meanwhile, despite the observed economic recovery in many areas, efforts to help 'coronavirus refugees' remained enormous.”
The Alternative Poverty Report concludes that food insecurity has worsened in Israel due to the pandemic with increasing number of households reportedly skipping meals due to financial difficulties. At the same time, Israeli society is characterized by an excessive food waste.
A whopping 2.5 million tons of food worth $6 billion was wasted in 2020 according to Leket Israel’s recent 6th annual Food waste and Rescue Report. This amounts to a staggering 35% of all food produced in Israel. Half of the food was reportedly edible and could have been resold in a society where an increasing number of Israeli households are as mentioned forced to skipping meals due to financial difficulties.
The report concludes an urgent need to address the challenges of excessive food waste and increased food insecurity in Israeli society.
“The increase in food waste and the widening of the food-insecurity gap that occurred during the year of the pandemic reinforce the need to use food rescue as one of the national policy tools,” states the Food waste and Rescue Report. Looking ahead, the report urges setting a national target to reducing food waste by 50% by the end of the current decade.
Compared to other advanced countries, Israel is characterized by a young and rapidly growing population. As Israel enters 2022, the country’s population reached almost 9.5 million people, growing with 160.000 people or 1.7% during 2021.
While most of the growth was due to natural population growth, the Jewish state also welcomed some 25,000 immigrants in 2021, including some 4,000 American Jews. By comparison, the U.S. population grew by only 0.1% in 2021. Low population growths or even in some cases, shrinking populations characterize most advanced OECD economies.
While facing many socioeconomic challenges, Israel’s export-oriented high-tech sector is a crucial engine in the Israeli economy. Israel’s economy grew by 7% compared to the world average of 5.9% in 2021 according to a new Dunn and Bradstreet study.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.