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As More Israelis Fall into Poverty, Labor Minister Has Plans for Reversal

As more Israelis, especially children and the elderly, are falling into poverty, Israel’s labor minister has announced that she will propose means to try to redress the worrisome trend.

Armed with a sheaf of statistical evidence, Ora Namir, minister of labor and social affairs, disclosed this week that some 616,500 Israelis were living in poverty in 1992, a figure up 9.7 percent over the previous year.

Even more troubling was the increased number of children living below the poverty line — 261,700 in 1992, up 11.6 percent over 1991.

Namir said her proposal to ease the situation would cost 410 million shekels, the equivalent of some $140 million.

Her plan includes an increase in child allowances for poor families allotted by the National Insurance Institute.

She also said her plan would help reduce the erosion of benefits to pensioners.

While 14.9 percent of Israeli families were living below the poverty line in 1991, their numbers increased last year to 16.9 percent.

Some 21,700 families slid below the poverty line in 1992, bringing the number of families classified as poor up to 174,000.

The Labor Ministry’s definition of poverty, as of Nov. 1, is an income of no more than 791 shekels, some $270, for one person; 1,672 shekels, or $570, for a couple; 2,022 shekels, or $690, for a couple with two children; and 2,369 shekels, the equivalent of $808, for a couple with three children.

By comparison, Israel’s gross minimum wage is 1,397 shekels, equal to $477.

IMPACT ON THE ELDERLY

Namir noted that the two groups hurting the most are the elderly and an increasing number of families with four children or more.

She said that the gradual erosion of pensions in the past three years is the main factor impoverishing the elderly.

The percentage of elderly people living in poverty rose from 13.7 percent in 1991 to 18.5 percent last year.

Some 11,700 elderly households fell below the poverty line in 1992, bringing the number up 36 percent, to 44,200 households.

The number of large families under the poverty line also jumped 36 percent, from 19,200 families in 1991 to 26,200 in 1992.

But new immigrant families have improved their lot.

While 34.6 percent of new immigrant families were under the poverty line in 1991, their numbers had fallen to 29.5 percent last year.

Officials and Israelis in general were shocked by the figures released.

Likud Knesset members blamed the current Labor government for the problem and announced they would introduce no-confidence motions in the parliament and call for the government’s immediate resignation because of the “shocking state of affairs.”

But their complaints were silenced as soon as Labor Ministry spokespersons pointed out that the figures Namir was presenting referred to the 1991-1992 period, during which the Likud government was in power.

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