Not Equal in Lockdowns

Economic shutdowns accentuate inequalities.

COVID-19 may not discriminate its victims by income, but the stringent policies our government takes undoubtedly do. The lockdown disproportionally impacts lower-income families and deepens economic inequalities at work and at home.

Unequal in Work

As of today, more than 25% of Israelis workers are unemployment or on leave without pay, this rate will rise as the shutdown continues. The people behind that 25% are individuals working in prohibited businesses or jobs without remote work options.

The "prevented from working" are the hardest hit by the economic shutdown. They are self-employed, service workers, hairdressers, tour guides, event organizers, sports teachers, restaurateurs, waiters, and many more professions in the service sector. They are also the workers earning the least in the economy. Last December, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the mean wage nationwide reached 10,000 NIS. Still, the workers employed in the service sector and self-employed had income averaging 6000 NIS a month, 40% lower than the national average.

As the situation worsens for the service workers employed in the private sector, workers in the public sector are sheltered from the economic lockdown. Civil servants, a third of the Israeli workforce, keep their income, their pension benefits, and their job tenure. Before the shutdown, they earned an average of 15,000 NIS a month, 50% above the national average, and they still do.

The shutdown policies create deep income inequalities between "the prevented from work" to the ones "allowed to work." Unfortunately, the ones unable to work were also the workers earning the least before the lockdown, they have smaller savings and face a very precarious economic situation.

Unequal at Home

Lockdown measures apply to all, but it is clear that quality of life under house arrest is related to the quality of the dwelling. As my Italian grandmother used to say, "it is more comfortable to worry in an armchair than on a stool."

Lower-income families have less available squared meters per capita. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in Israel, individuals living in the top-income households have almost two rooms per person, the lowest income households have less than half.

People living in smaller dwelling have less access to outdoor spaces such as gardens or balconies; they have smaller private space to share for work or study. Children in those households are in a less desirable area for remote learning; some even lack access to the internet. The parents have no financial means to pay for private tutors or extra online activities.

Already before this lockdown, the Israeli public education system had failed to bring quality education to the lowest income communities. During the shutdown, the gap in access to any education is growing exponentially. Kids in privileged families have personal computers, subscriptions to learning platforms, private tutoring, they are learning faster than in school; the kids in poorer households are prevented from learning and are falling behind.

So next time the government is telling you, we are all united and equal in this fight against COVID-19, let's remember that the economic burden is carried almost exclusively by the least economically privileged households. Lockdown is a tax on the low-income families!

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