The Israeli economy grew 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2018 – after growing 4.3 percent in the last quarter of 2017, the Central Bureau of Statistics figures show. Yet, according to the same CBS, nearly a third of Israelis are unable to pay all their expenses in any given month.
Those figures were based on a poll taken by the CBS on their personal economic experience in 2017. According to the poll, 31 percent of Israelis – 1.7 million people – live in households where the monthly income is insufficient to meet monthly expenses. Breaking down the figures by specific groups, the poll showed that 55 percent of Arabs are unable to “finish the month,” as were 26 percent of Israeli non-chareidi Jews. Among chareidim, the figure was 29 percent. Among families led by a single parent, the figure was 39 percent; for families where both spouses worked, the number was 29 percent.
According to the poll, 8 percent of Israelis – 14 percent of Arabs and 6 percent of Jews – went without food for at least one meal in 2017 because they didn’t have money for food. For chareidim, that figure was 10 percent. Seven percent of all Israelis – 12 percent of Arabs, 6 percent of non-chareidi Jews, and 11 percent of chareidim – said they ate less than they had wanted at some meals because of money issues. Five percent said they had given up a hot meal once every other day because of money issues.
Despite that, the Israeli economy was chugging along in the first part of 2018, the CBS said – and much of the growth was fueled by personal spending, which was up 9.7 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to a year earlier. Imports of goods and services also jumped in the first quarter, by 20.7 percent on an annualized basis; in the last quarter of 2017, those imports were up 5.5 percent over the last quarter of 2016.
Much of the growth was attributed to strong car sales. Personal spending on vehicles was up an astounding 279.7 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to sales a year earlier. Spending on vehicles was up 39.6 percent over the last quarter of 2017 as well. Purchases of appliances, including refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners, were up 20.5 percent on an annualized basis during the quarter as well. Also up, by 9.3 percent, was spending on entertainment, while spending on clothing, food, personal services, housing, gas, electricity and household maintenance was up seven-tenths of a percent.
Speaking last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israelis were doing better than residents of Japan and of the European Union. “The data is just unbelievable,” Netanyahu told MKs. “We have now passed Japan in terms of income and gross national product on an individualized basis, and we have passed the average in the European Union. We are closing in on Britain and France.”
Unemployment, at less than 4 percent, Netanyahu said, “is at an all-time low, based on the measurements that have been used over the past 40 years. Average income is at an all-time high. We have gone through some significant changes here.” Unemployment in March was 3.5 percent, the lowest ever recorded, surpassing the 3.7 percent rate that was recorded in 1974.