Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in Israeli government efforts to close socio-economic gaps between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Enhancing the rate and quality of Arab employment is viewed today as key to closing these gaps and strengthening Israel's economy as a whole. While Arab citizens are an integral part of Israel's labor market, numerous historical processes have led to socio-economic gaps and distinct employment characteristics between Arabs and Jews that present unique challenges as well as opportunities for the national economy.
According to 2013 government figures, Arab men and women's employment participation rates are 69% and 26%, respectively (compared to 74% and 73% among Jewish men and women). Income and salary statistics show that Arab men, while having similar rates of participation as Jewish men, earn an average of 25%-50% less. Given demographic trends, the Israeli Bureau of Statistics warns that if current employment rates persist, there will be a significant drop in overall GDP and in the Israeli standard of living---exacerbating socio-economic disparities and their associated costs, and jeopardizing Israel's long-term economic stability.
The Israeli government has set ambitious goals for 2020 aiming to significantly increase Arab employment rates. While sheer increase in number is part of the equation, equally important is the quality and type of employment. Arab citizens today are overrepresented in low-skilled, physical, part-time, and low-wage labor and significantly underrepresented in most advanced industries and professions, in academia, in the media and in the public sector. Thus initiatives aiming to enhance Arab employment are addressing both increase in the supply of an Arab workforce qualified for Israel's advanced economy, and making advanced employment more accessible to Arab citizens. Employment training and preparation for Arab citizens, diversity-awareness among employers, improving infrastructure in the periphery, and promoting job creation for Arab professionals throughout the country are some of the major program areas being implemented today.
On the ground numerous civil society organizations have been working for many years now to advance these same goals. Today many of the models and methodologies developed by them are being integrated and scaled up by the government as new and improved models are being developed in the field. Such work involves engaging the business sector, developing programs specific to empowerment and training women, students, engineers, and academics, and working vis-à-vis government to ensure fair budgeting and inclusive employment policies.
Read more about this issue in the Task Force in-depth briefing paper - "Arab Citizen Employment in Israel: Critical Concern and Great Potential"