Report – Condemned to Unemployment: East Jerusalem Women Struggle for Integration into the Labor Market

Chapter 1: The Urgent Need for EJ Women to Enter the Labor Market

In 2014 (the year of the most recent figures as of this writing), 82% of EJ residents had an income that was far below Israel’s poverty line.[1] The nationwide poverty line for a family of five stood at NIS 9,230 monthly, but an EJ family of five averaged only NIS 5,159.[2] (NIS 3.7 = 1 USD.)

The EJ poverty rate has greatly increased since Israel built the Separation Barrier (beginning in 2002); certain Arab areas, though still officially part of Jerusalem, were cut off from the rest of the city. Scarcity of land on the side of EJ that was not cut off, plus the impossibility of getting permits to expand existing houses, plus rises in the cost of living, have all resulted in a massive migration to the cut-off areas, where building regulations are not strictly enforced. In these areas the cost of housing is lower, but the living standards are much worse and job opportunities almost non-existent.[3]

Among EJ families with at least one working member, 89% live on a single minimum wage Between 2008 and 2014, the EJ poverty rate shot up from 65% to 82%. If we just take families of five (these were 57% of EJ families in 2014), the rise was from 66% to 89%.[4]

The income of most EJ families is confined to that of a single member (usually male), who works in a labor market where the legal minimum wage is not enforced. If we consider only those EJ families whose total income is below the poverty line, in 2011 the average family income was NIS 3,826. In that year, Israel’s minimum monthly wage rose from NIS 3,850 to NIS 4,100. In other words, the total income of these families amounts to less than a single minimum wage. This relationship has held through the years since 2005, except for a slight one-time improvement in 2013–2014.[5] In sum, although 89% of poor families do include a wage earner, the wage is so low that the family cannot escape poverty.

Absence of EJ women from the labor market

EJ men are highly represented in Israel’s labor market, while EJ women are hardly present at all.

In 2014, among EJ residents aged 25-64, 47,800 of the men—83% of them—were in the labor force, and 79% of these had jobs. In contrast, only 10,900 women (18% of 61,000 women) were in it, and 17% had jobs.[6] If we begin from the legal working age of 15, then 68% of the men were in the labor force, with 63% actively employed, while only 13% of women were in it, 11% employed.[7]

Mass entry of women into the employment market would significantly improve the socioeconomic condition of EJ Palestinians. However, under current abusive working conditions, it would not suffice to raise their families above the poverty line. For that to happen, the entry must be accompanied, for both men and women, by pay that exceeds the minimum wage.

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