According to a new study, this year the Israeli economy will lose at least 1.6 billion shekels [$460 million] because it has not invested in past years in supporting [female] employment in the Arab sector. This huge sum relates only to an increase in the participation of Arab women in the workforce, does not include men, and does not calculate taxes and savings in welfare allotments.
The authors of the study, Eran Yashiv of the School of Economics at Tel Aviv University and Nitsa Kasir, the head of the employment economy division at the Research Department of the Bank of Israel, showed that to substantially change the employment situation of Arab Israelis, the government would have to invest billions of shekels, but that the return would be equally large.
There are a number of problems. Salaries in this sector are low, as is participation in the workforce, especially among women, only 27% of whom work or are looking for work, as compared with more than 60% of Jewish women.
Even if an Arab woman finds a job, it would likely be in a field where the compensation is low to begin with — nursing, welfare or education. This holds without even touching on cultural issues, since the more conservative segments of the Arab sector make it difficult for a woman to commute to her workplace on her own. The poor transportation infrastructure, in terms of roads and buses, compounds the difficulties. Thus, the whole picture is such that a woman would have to make a significant effort to go work.
The difficulty, write Kasir and Yashiv, starts in the classroom. According to a 2011 survey of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, only one in four Arabs in Israel has 13 or more years of education, compared with one in two Jews. The Arabs are slowly closing the gap, but there are still large gaps in the quantity and quality of education that students of each of these two sectors receive. The government’s budget allocation for an Arab student is 38% less than that for a Jewish student.
5.3 billion shekels [$1.5 billion] a year
The steps suggested by Kasir and Yashiv should not be surprising in themselves, but the extent of investment that they call for might be surprising.
When one examines the investment required by the authors’ plan, compared with the current efforts of the state, one can see the gap. In the short term, (two to three years) current investment stands at a billion shekels ($286 million) a year, which would increase to 5.3 billion a year [$1.5 billion] under the plan.
This could be perhaps considered a plan for the optimum investment, but according to the authors, the plan simply answers existing needs.
Thus, for example, the government announced that it would allocate 265 million NIS [$76 million] in the years 2010-15 for the creation of industrial zones in Arab cities, while the need is estimated to require investments of double or more of that amount.
Likewise, in recent years the state has built 15 more day-care centers for working Arab women, but still only 2% of children of such women attend the centers.
So, too, when it comes to roads. Public transportation has indeed improved, but not at the required rate and in particular not in roads in the cities themselves. The two authors estimate that 700 million shekels [$200 million] will have to be invested in this area.
Kasir and Yashiv have formulated an 11-point plan that includes, among other things, a massive investment in education, with an emphasis on preschools and elementary schools. They even suggest transferring Arab students to Jewish schools and transferring Jewish teachers to Arab schools. But it’s clear to them, as well, that this would be a long-term process, in the best scenario.
In the short, even immediate term, they write that targeted job placement centers for Arab university graduates should be established, since graduates often have a hard time finding a job in their field, if at all.
Such centers should focus on helping Arab women, and Kasir and Yashiv even suggest that the government fund their salaries at a certain level in order to encourage more women to work and to quickly change norms in the sector.
An additional step that could help Arab women in particular is a massive investment in improving transportation infrastructure in cities and villages, so that a woman could take the bus or a car to work.
We Would All Be Richer
According to the researchers, a 5%-7% increase in the rate of participation of Arab women in the workforce is to be expected.
The difference between continuing the current trend and implementing the authors’ policy proposals would make the Israeli economy richer by 17 billion shekels [about $5 billion] in today’s terms.
In the course of the years, the difference would reach 52 billion shekels [$15 billion] in 2030 and 217 billion shekels [$62 billion] in 2050.
Kasir and Yashiv have already presented the fundamentals of the plan at the ministries of finance and economics. According to them, “The government’s reaction is minor. They tell you that here’s 20 Arab women and there are 40 men, but this is a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of women and men.”