I’m sure that a lot of Israelis were happy to learn that the “average” household income has now risen to more than 12,000 New Shekels on a gross income basis, with a ‘take home’ amount of around 10,000. That’s great news to hear, especially if you are one of these lucky households.
The bad news is that the disparity between rich and poor is rising quickly, turning a country that formerly had a very high middle class into one where less than 10% enjoy relatively high incomes and more than 30% are living below the established poverty line.
Naturally, this statistically set poverty line includes all kinds of unfortunate folk, including new immigrants from countries like Ethiopia, ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Arab Israeli families (Arabs are still considered as “second class” citizens by their Jewish counterparts) and of course older people.
The term ‘older people’ does not necessarily mean people who lived very modest lives while helping to build the infrastructure of the State, and are now barely surviving on National Insurance pensions. This term also means a lot of people in the age 55+ range who may have lost their good jobs and are now having to get by on low paying, hourly wages positions such as working in call centers, as cashiers in supermarkets, or as security guards.
Yes, things certainly have improved in Israel since the beginning of the technology revolution and the new economic “reforms” designed to benefit the rich but hurt the most vulnerable sectors of society, i.e. the working poor.
Even the term “working poor” has an ominous ring to it as it lumps together a broad group of people, of all ages, who despite holding down full time jobs, just can’t make enough to get by on. The more recent influx of outsourced jobs from Europe and North America have resulted in the opening of call centers that operate on the client country’s normal business hours, and in many cases when their customers are at home. Working for jobs paying anywhere from NS 18 to 25 per hour, with virtually no social benefits, is now the accepted norm in these positions. And if one calls in sick, he simply doesnâ€™t get paid for time off.
On the high end of this new income ‘totem pole’, there are more millionaires, and even billionaires, in Israel than ever before. They live in homes costing millions of dollars and drive cars costing the price of a 3 or 4 room flat. Their increasing numbers make the governmental authorities feel that they have helped to bring the State of Israel up to a level comparable to most European countries. While this may be true in some cases, it does not apply ever growing number of citizens who used to be considered as being in the middle class and now have fallen ‘through the cracks’.
Recent attention has lately been given to aged Holocaust survivors who came to Israel in 1948/49 with nothing but their lives and the hope that it would be possible to start over again in a country free from anti-Semitism and intimidation. Most are now well into their 80’s and in poor health. Few, if any of them, are benefiting from Israel’s brave new economic world, and even a small amount of additional government stipends to purchase food and needed medications is still being held up by a government more interested in other types of projects.
While it’s encouraging to see the country’s share markets rising and inflation standing at near zero levels, are all of these factors really worthwhile if at the expense of many people who have given their all to developing the country? Better to have inflation and subsidized employment possibilities, if this means that more people will live decent lives with more self respect.