Report: Nearly 2 Million Citizens of Israel Live Below the Poverty Line

The standard of living in Israel fell to a 20-year low in 2020 due to the economic and social crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the annual poverty report of the National Insurance Institute (NII), which was released Thursday evening, January 21.

Actors and theatre workers protest near the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, August 2020; among the signs: "This stage must not be left empty," "Bibi, Open the theatres."

Actors and theatre workers protest near the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, August 2020; among the signs: “This stage must not be left empty,” “Bibi, Open the theatres.” (Photo: Actor’s Union)

The National Insurance Institute’s report, published after a three-month delay, recorded an overall drop in median income — the criterion for measuring standard of living — of 22.7% over 2020. Such a drop has not been seen in Israel since 2001 during an economic crisis triggered by the Second Intifada. The main victims of the COVID-19 crisis, the report found, were working families that saw their jobs disappear or their salaries cut, single-parent families, and young families.

According to the report, 1,980,309 citizens of Israel live below the poverty line, as of last year. This is 23% of all citizens and 31.7% of the country’s children. Among the Jewish population, the proportion of the poor is 17.7%, while in the Arab population, 35.8% live in poverty. For the working people in Israel who are not only supported by benefits, the poverty rate stands at 18.8%. 155,279 senior citizens in Israel live below the poverty line. According to the report, the decline in the standard of living resulted in a lowering of the poverty line, defined in relation to median income, to NIS 2,403 per person each month.

In its report the NII relates that 620,000 citizens are currently relying on unemployment benefits, of whom some 400,000 have done so since the pandemic reached Israel in March of last year, battering the economy. During the first outbreak of the virus in the Spring of 2020, unemployment figures issued by the Employment Service spiked as 800,000 people quickly lost their places of work because of the initial lockdown. During the current lockdown, the third, launched in late December, 150,000 new workers received unemployment benefits, 70% of them women.