The poverty rate in Israel increased in 1998, according to a report published December 20 by the National Insurance Institute (NII). The number of poor grew to 18 percent of the population, or about 1.021 million people, up from 17.8% in 1997. The level of child poverty grew more slowly, but was in excess of the overall rate at 22.8%, up from 22.7% two years ago. The plight of non-Jews is even worse, with nearly 2 in 5 non-Jewish families below the poverty line.
Israel defines the poverty line as less than half the national median income -- about $896 in monthly earnings for a family of four. By contrast, the U.S. poverty level was defined as an income of $16,530 annually for a family of two adults and two children.
The poverty rate fell for two key categories last year. For families headed by an elderly person, the rate fell sharply to 18.7% from 21.5% in 1997 and in absolute terms dropped to 63,000 families from 70,000. The rate for single-parent families dropped to 24.7% from 27.6%. For large families, defined as those with four children or more, the rate dropped less dramatically to 35% from 36%. Experts linked the high level of poverty both to high unemployment - the jobless rate is now over 9% - and low wages, which push those at the bottom of the salary scale below the poverty line.