If the employment rate of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men remains at a standstill, it will cost the Israeli market more than $100 billion a year within the next several decades, according to Israel’s Ministry of Finance.
The data was presented last week by Assaf Wasserzug, the deputy head of the budget division at the ministry, at a conference held by Jerusalem-based independent research center the Israel Democracy Institute. The conference was focused on the controversial Charedi Draft bill, years in the making, that would see the mandatory military enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men.
Israel has mandatory military service for any persons aged 18, with exemptions given to women on religious grounds and to Charedi men who continue their religious studies. This arrangement requires Charedi men to dedicate at least 45 hours a week to Yeshivah studies and avoid all other work until the age of 22. Charedi men who halt their religious studies, enroll in academic studies, or gain significant employment before the age of 24 may be enlisted for military service at once.
In the conference, both Wasserzug and Yulia Eitan, head of the Employment Administration for Special Populations at the Israeli Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services, presented data supporting an initiative to lower the age when Charedi men can be exempt from military service, in order to encourage them to enter the workforce.
According to Wasserzug, the employment rate among Ch 50.5 percent today, compared with 87 percent for non-Charedi Jewish men.
The data Wasserzug presented showed that should this remain the case, the exclusion of Charedi men from the workforce would cost the Israeli market NIS 40 billion (approximately $11.25 billion) a year by 2030 and NIS 400 billion (approximately $112.5 billion) by 2065. These numbers were calculated taking into account the characteristically high fertility rate among the Charedi population. The sums were calculated according to an estimated average monthly salary of NIS 8,000 (approximately $2,250).
According to Wasserzug, lowering the age of exemption by just one year will lead to a 0.2 percent increase in Israel’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2065, while lowering it from 24 to 21 would increase the GDP by between 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent due to added years of professional education and experience.
Eitan also had a similar recommendation, saying the integration of the Charedi population — expected by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics to amount to 33 percent of the country’s population by 2065 — would be more effective if they could enter the workforce at a younger age.
Shahar Ilan / CTech