The Poor Ye Will Always Have With You

Israel’s recent economic prosperity is hardly shared by everyone living here. Sadly, the poverty rate has actually grown this decade as the stock market and financial compensation for most chief executive officers (CEOs) roared ahead.

Statistics released at the end of 2007 revealed that 18 percent of salaried Israeli adults live below the poverty line established by the government—meaning they are not making enough to supply basic needs for themselves or their families.

In fact, some 400,000 families, or one-third of those residing in Israel, were classified in a National Health Insurance report as suffering from “nutritional insecurity” during the year, a euphemistic way of saying they were not able to purchase adequate food supplies. One in three children in the country was said to fall under this horrible category. In total, some 1.6 million Israelis were living in poverty in 2007—an astonishing 28 percent of the overall population.

By contrast, the recent economic boom has led to a sharp rise in salaries for the privileged executives running Israel’s 25 largest companies. The big boss-es earned an average of well over $2 million each during 2006, more than double what they took home in 2003.

In stark disparity to the country’s leading CEOs, nearly 33 percent of Israeli salaried employees only earned the government-established minimum wage during 2006, with some actually falling below it. This compared to 29 percent in 2001.

It must be pointed out that a majority of Israeli children officially listed as living below the poverty line are members of religiously observant Jewish and Muslim families who are likely to receive some outside help from friends and relatives or places of worship. Still, a government survey showed that the heads of 24 percent of Israeli families were forced at least once during 2007 to choose between buying adequate food supplies or making rent, mortgage, and utility payments.

When such dire statistics are released each year, government leaders always pledge to do more to eradicate poverty in Israel. But charity groups working to ease the plight of the poor say their words are almost never translated into adequate action.

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