One of the main factors identified with poverty is the low labor force participation rate or LFPR. One of the Israel’s goals as a country is to encourage economic growth and to break the cycle of poverty, and therefore it is making great efforts to increase the LFPR among haredi men and Arab women. Currently, the LFPR for haredi men stands at only 54% and for Arab women 35%.

Most of the resources spent by the state in Jerusalem are already concentrated on these two populations. In the capital, only 43% of haredi men participate in the workforce, which is lower than the national average. The rate for Arab women who work in the capital is also lower than the national average (22%).

Despite these efforts, social and cultural norms serve as a large obstacle to raising these employment rates. Haredi men are expected to study Torah all day long, and so haredi women are expected to bear the brunt of financially supporting their families. In Arab communities, women are expected to stay home and take care of their children, and the men fill the traditional role of financially supporting the family. Of course, there are also additional barriers, such as lack of infrastructure and childcare.

Current programs that aim to encourage employment among these populations are only partially successful due to said cultural norms. In my opinion, Israel’s government should also allocate funds to promote quality employment for Arab men and haredi women since these populations are already fully involved in the labor force. By raising average salaries for these two groups, the quality of life for both Arab and haredi families will be greatly improved.

The LFPR in Jerusalem for Arab men is 84% and for haredi women is 70%. These high percentages would be encouraging, except for the fact that their salaries are significantly lower than the average wage. Arab men earn on average NIS 5,800 a month in contrast to the average of Jewish men, which is NIS 10,600. Haredi women earn NIS 5,700 a month on average, whereas non-haredi Jewish women earn NIS 7,000 on average. The main reason for this huge wage gap is the lack of education and professional training among Arab employees and the tendency of haredi women to work in professions with a lower earning potential, such as education, as well as preferring to work close to home.

Changing the focus of budget allocations would not require fighting against cultural norms, would involve smaller budgets, and would yield larger returns in the short term. 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.