Ethiopian Unemployment Down

“The common image is that nobody works, which is not correct,” said Judith King, coordinator of a study that surveyed Ethiopian residents in eight Israeli cities. Conducted by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Myers-JDC- Brookdale Institute, the study states that the employment rate ranged from 56 per cent to 77 per cent of men, depending on the city. The national rate is 74 per cent.

The survey, released in May, indicates that the employment rate of Ethiopian men between the ages of 26 and 44 is approaching that of the non-immigrant Israeli population, and that the situation of Ethiopian immigrants is generally improving.

“The situation on the whole is not necessarily good, but when compared to how it started, it’s not so bad,” King said, referring to the limited resources Ethiopians came here with. The study was conducted in eight cities, each with a large number of Ethiopian immigrants. The findings are based on interviews with about 15,000 individuals.

“We are very far from equality,” said Shlomo Molla, the Jewish Agency’s director of Ethiopian affairs. He said the number presented in the survey does not take into account the type of employment, nor the wage. “Even if people are working, they are getting a minimum salary and are not working in their profession,” he said.

Batia Eyob, director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, said these jobs are not stable and do not offer many benefits. However, she said that despite the negative aspects of this kind of job, it still provides some form of income. Like Molla, she said this may account for the higher numbers in the JDC survey.

Also, she said she has not seen any improvement in employment rates and does not think the numbers in the recent survey are accurate. “Unemployment is not getting better. On the contrary, it is getting worse,” she said. “There is an increasing number of young graduates who are unemployed. As a result, these students end up working in man power-type jobs.”

The survey also noted some more distressing findings, which vary depending on the city. For one, the immigrants’ self-assessed comprehension of Hebrew is low: 18 to 28 per cent of fathers and 7 to 28 per cent of mothers are completely unable to comprehend or conduct a simple conversation in Hebrew. Also, over half of the families with children under five-years-old do not have any games, toys or books.

Furthermore, the employment rate of men between the ages of 18 and 64 – which varies between 34 and 48 per cent – is much lower than the national average of 64 per cent. While Molla finds it hard to be optimistic about the situation, he said the Jewish Agency has an initiative that tries to find jobs for Ethiopian immigrants with a professional education.

King’s optimism, however, stems from “where [the Ethiopian immigrant population] came from and how much they achieved.” “It’s far from perfect, but there is ground for optimism,” she added.

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