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JIIS Bulletin - February 2012
The ultra-orthodox: Working their way into the workforce
The economic squeeze leaves no sector unresponsive, not even the ultra-orthodox. Over the last two decades, the number of haredi [ultra-orthodox] women and men seeking independent sources of income, directly or by first acquiring higher education, has risen. This is mainly due to the deterioration of their traditional income sources, ranging from support from philanthropy abroad, state child support, Holocaust survivors’ reparations, and so on. The last five years have seen a dramatic rise in haredi men heading to higher education – in 2005 there were some 2,000 enrolled in various institutions, and by 2010 that number had more than doubled – though no real change has yet been seen in their workforce participation: in Jerusalem, for example, haredis comprise approximately 35% of the city's Jewish population (an estimate only, as of course no one has to declare his or her degree of religiosity anywhere) and they maintain a similar slice of the local civilian labor force. 

A new JIIS study is examining the gamut of issues related to integrating educated haredis into the workforce. And what the researchers have found so far is fascinating. First, a lot of the haredi men turning to studies go for "prestigious" professions – law and business administration are particularly popular – professions they believe will open more doors of opportunity and hold promise of higher incomes. Upon graduation, however, it is not a given that they will manage to find jobs in the general labor market, as it is saturated with professionals in these fields. Also, they will not only have to compete with non-haredi peers, but also deal with work places that take a "secular" approach to things. As well, they tend to be older and already to have families – unlike most young non-ultra-orthodox graduates. This might make them less flexible in their employment, geographically and salary-wise, as they cannot afford to start with a low wage and move up.

Indeed, the project so far has identified a series of barriers that at present make haredi integration into the labor force harder than that for the general population – social barriers of both the haredis and potential employers, barriers related to the type and quality of training given to the ultra-orthodox, barriers regarding availability of work, and so on. Researchers Reut Marciano and Dr. Dan Kaufmann will outline these barriers and recommend a policy framework for dealing with them. The present research will examine whether there is in fact discrimination when haredi graduates seek work and if so on what basis; that is, is it really because they are ultra-orthodox? To answer this, Marciano will compare differences between haredi and non-haredi graduates of the same institutions as they take the road to the labor market and, once there, whether they work under similar or different conditions, such as pay.  

"The success of integrating this sector of the community into the labor force is vital for both the community and Israel as a whole," says Marciano, "especially as the phenomenon [of haredis seeking higher education] is relatively new." If it fails, she cautions, "if haredis feel rejected or discriminated against, it might hinder the trend of haredis seeking higher education and quality employment, and thus will have harsh repercussions on the long-term economic status of the community as a whole – and that too will impact on the country.” The study will be concluded later this year. [Previous studies in this framework include Talmud Torah Is Equivalent to All – The Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Education System for Boys in Jerusalem (by Ehud Spiegel) and The Ultra-Orthodox: Fearing for Their Future (by Asaf Malchi, Bezalel Cohen and Dan Kaufmann).]

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