In any economy, the poor are going to have a hard time paying their bills – but so are the near-poor, and in Israel, there are a significant number of near-poor who don’t earn enough to pay their expenses, but do not qualify for many of the benefits and assistance that those under the poverty line qualify for. That is the conclusion of the Adva Center, a social policy analysis group whose study shows that, when examined according to standards used in other countries, including the United States, over a quarter of Israelis are poor enough to qualify for that assistance, even if many are not under the poverty line.
That line, established by the National Insurance Institute, considers Israelis whose income per household member is less than NIS 2,612 (the figures relate to 2016, the last year for which a full set of numbers was available) as “poor.” A total of 18.5 percent of Israeli households qualify for the label based on that criteria. The Adva report raises that bar by 25 percent (NIS 3,263 per household member) to include the near-poor, following the practice in poverty reports in other countries, including the U.S. – on the theory that the near-poor have just as hard a time paying bills as the poor, or perhaps an even harder time, as they aren’t eligible for many of the payments and assistance those under the poverty line get. Based on that, 26.6 percent of Israeli families – more than a quarter – can be considered poor and near-poor, the report said.
Of the poor and near-poor, the large majority are in the Arab sector. According to the report, nearly half the households in the Arab sector have incomes under the poverty line, compared to 13.2 percent of Jewish households. Additionally, 13.5 percent of Arab households are near-poor, compared to 7.2 percent of Jewish households.
Among Jews, the poorest group is that of Ethiopian descent, with nearly a third – 31.1 percent – either poor or near-poor. The second poorest group constitutes children of immigrants from Arab countries, with 27.7 percent in either category. Among second-generation European immigrants, however, the situation is reversed; 54.5 percent belong to the two highest socio-economic levels. Also notable in the report, Adva said, was the level of poverty or near-poverty among households where both spouses worked – a statistic that rose by 191 percent between 2003 and 2016.
In a statement, the Center said that “the report indicates that there is a large population that, although not considered poor, in reality are. Many of the issues that characterize the lives of the poor and near-poor are the same, indicating that the goal of raising people over the official poverty line may not be sufficient. The report’s message is that more must be done to assist families in order to prevent them from falling too close to the poverty line, and the need to ensure that services are available to the middle class.”