725,000 Israelis Define Themselves as Poor, Poverty Group Laments ‘Very Stark Increase’
About 725,000 Israelis – among them 29 percent of Israeli Arabs and 12 percent of Jews – define themselves as poor, according to latest Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) figures.
Thirty percent are at risk of poverty – almost double the 17 percent in comparative statistics from Europe, according to the report, which was released Tuesday.
“What we’ve see in the last few years is a very, very stark increase in the number of working poor,” according to Deena Fiedler of Leket, a decade-old umbrella organization which serves as as the nation’s largest food bank and food rescue service.
The organization works with 180 non-profit groups across the country, including food suppliers, hotels in several cities, and the Israel Defense Forces, to collect unused food, and works with farmers to collect unpicked produce from the field.
“The agencies we’re closely in touch with tell us, ‘in the past, when people thought of poverty in Israel, they mostly thought of the Arab and Charedi communities,'” she noted in conversation with The Algemeiner on Thursday.
“But there’s been a big increase in the number of functional families, where both the husband and wife hold jobs, except that the cost of living in Israel has gone up so drastically, that on the wages that they make, they can’t put food on the table,” Fiedler said.
“That’s the most powerful thing we’ve seen in the last couple of years – a big change,” she said, noting that Leket collects “some 200 tons of farm produce weekly that would have otherwise been destroyed,” and hopes to collect and redistribute 1.5 million meals by the end of 2014.
Additionally, a quarter of Israelis said they’re lagging behind on utility payments, including electricity, telephone, water and gas, the report said.
Particularly high arrears rates were recorded in Jerusalem at 37 percent, and Bnei Brak at 30 percent, compared with lower rates in relatively affluent cities like Ramat Gan and Rishon LeZion, which both showed a 12 percent non-payment figure for utilities.
In addition, single-parent households at risk of poverty in Israel stood at 41 percent, compared to 36 percent in EU countries, on average, and about 66 percent in Greece. A particularly high proportion of children are at risk of poverty in Israel – 39 percent – compared with 20 percent on average in the EU.