A new study conducted by the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis has concluded that the coronavirus epidemic (and perhaps more critically, the government response to it) has had the effect of widening social gaps – that is to say, the rich have weathered the crisis far better, while the poor have in many cases become poorer.
The study focused on the situation in Israel and the effects on various sectors of the population, divided both according to income and to racial and religious divides. Researchers from Washington University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Hebrew University, and Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel were all involved in the study.
Around 2,300 Israelis participated in an online survey conducted in June, 2020. They were divided according to sector – Arab-Israeli, non-haredi-Jewish, and haredi-Jewish; and also according to gross household income – under NIS 8,000 [USD 2,370] per month; between NIS 8 and 17,000 [USD 2,370 – 5,030] per month; and above NIS 17,000 [USD 5,030] per month – without allowing for household size.
Unsurprisingly, given unemployment figures that soared to around 20% in the first wave of the coronavirus (and have returned to similar rates in the current lockdown), around one in four Israelis reported that they suffered “unemployment shock” following the outbreak of the epidemic. However, experiences of either job loss or unpaid leave (furlough) differed quite remarkably depending on income bracket.
One in three people in the lowest income bracket experienced unemployment shock; in the middle income bracket, the figure was one in four; and in the highest income bracket, only one in five either lost a job or was furloughed.
These findings broadly paralleled those when respondents were divided according to their housing situation: 29% of renters, 24% of house owners with a mortgage, and 20% of house owners without a mortgage suffered unemployment shock, again showing that those initially more vulnerable were more likely to be adversely affected by the job situation following the lockdown.
The disparities when compared according to religious/racial divides were less stark: 25% of non-haredi Jews suffered job loss/furlough, as opposed to 26% of haredim and 29% of Arab-Israelis.
However, when respondents reported the effects on their daily life caused by epidemic and lockdown, the results became more troubling, the researchers reported. Arab-Israelis were far more likely to experience difficulties in paying rent and/or mortgage (24%) than non-haredi Jews (just 8%), with around 13% of haredim experiencing difficulties.
Non-housing expenses were equally likely to have become a challenge: 43% of Arab-Israelis reported trouble paying bills, as opposed to just 13% of non-haredi Jews, and 25% of haredim. 40% of Arab-Israelis experienced food insecurity, as opposed to just 19% of non-haredi Jews and 28% of haredim.
Given the continued tenuous economic situation, another of the study’s findings was extremely disturbing – when asked how they would cope if an emergency arose in the next month and they had to raise NIS 2,000, almost 50% of Arab-Israelis said they would be unable to do so. Among non-haredi Jews this figure was just 19%, and among haredim it was 26%. Furthermore, when asked how long their savings would last, more than 50% of Arab-Israelis said no more than a month, as opposed to just 26% non-haredi Israelis who responded similarly, and 44% of haredim.
Commenting on the study’s findings, Professor Michal Grinstein-Weiss, the director of the study, noted that “social disparities existed prior to the coronavirus epidemic,” but pointed to the study’s results that clearly showed that hardship was found to be “greatest among vulnerable Israelis already struggling financially.”
“With the new national lockdown, we expect the number of people facing economic hardship will increase,” the study’s authors concluded, adding that, “Unless Israel’s government implements a more equitable response to the pandemic, the negative effects may be felt long into the future.”
Expressing her hope that the study would prove an impetus for change rather than a doomsayer, Grinstein-Weiss added that, “Efforts to close the health, social, and economic inequalities in our country can [enable us to] properly address the epidemic,” and that “the coronavirus could thus be transformed into an opportunity to create and build a new normal, a society with less inequality and more cohesion.”
Source: Arutz Sheva