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Israel poverty getting worse 2003 report { November 23 2004 }

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Tue., November 23, 2004 Kislev 10, 5765
NII report: 1.5 million were below poverty line in 2003

By Ruth Sinai and Zvi Zrahiya, Haaretz Correspondent

There were 1,427,000 people living below the poverty line in Israel in 2003 - some 22.4 percent of the population, according to the National Insurance Institute annual report on poverty published Tuesday.

"Israel is becoming poorer and poorer," said NII Director General Dr. Yigal Ben Shalom during the presentation of the report.

The data also shows that around 652,000 children in Israel can be defined as poor, a total of 30.8 percent of the children in the country. Almost 83,000 of the poor are elderly.

According to Israel Radio, Jerusalem is the poorest city in Israel, with some 33 percent of its population living below the poverty line.

People below the poverty line in Israel are defined as having an income of less than 1,763 NIS(approximately 410 dollars) for a single person and 2,777 NIS (650 dollars) for a couple.

The National Insurance Institute report also estimated that in 2004 a further deterioration in the poverty would take place.

Also according to the report, 139,000 of the households whose heads are employed live nevertheless in poverty. In some 17,000 of these families there are two providers of income.

There has been an increase of 12,500 people among employed poor, which is an increase of about 10 percent. This indicates a sharper rise in the number of people in this group compared to other poor people.

Poverty hit over 360,000 families, or 19,3 percent of the households in Israel. This constitutes a substantial worsening from the 18.1 percent in 2002.

Among Arab households the poverty rate reached in 2003 48.4 percent. 27.6 percent of single parent families are below poverty line.

The head of the tax authority, Eitan Rob, told Israel Radio that poverty among Arabs was the result of cultural problem that prevents them from working.

The average income among the poor fell from 70.3 percent of the poverty line in 2002 to 69.5 percent in 2003. The expansion and deepening of poverty were highly affected by the cut backs in the wage supplement allowances to the elderly.

By comparison, only 12.5 percent of individuals and 10 percent of families are under the poverty line in the United States, and children comprise only 17.6 percent of the impoverished there.

Next week, a seven-justice panel of the High Court of Justice will hear a petition demanding that the government repeal cuts in welfare allowances because their current level does not allow recipients to live with dignity. The court has already issued a show-cause order to the government in this case, indicating that it sees some merit in the petition.

But Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday that under no circumstances will allowances be restored to their former level, since at that level, they created a disincentive to work, which in turn created a culture of welfare dependency that ultimately worsened poverty.

The only real way to emerge from poverty, he said, is for both parents to work: Almost no families with two earners are under the poverty line.

He has therefore ordered his ministry to look into ways of encouraging nonworking spouses to work, he said.

Moreover, Netanyahu stated, the country cannot afford to support a growing number of welfare recipients on taxes paid by a shrinking labor force, which is what would eventually happen if high allowances encouraged people not to work.

"The only way to emerge from poverty is to get a job. Today, it is impossible to say that there are no jobs," he added, noting that over the last year, 90,000 Israelis joined the ranks of the employed.

However, he failed to mention that most of these jobs are part-time and pay minimum wage or less, and therefore do little to rescue people from poverty.

Netanyahu said the government also plans to expand the school lunch program, in order to reduce poverty among children.

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