Employment of the Arab Population during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges, Opportunities and Circles of Influence

  1. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was highly detrimental to the employment of the Arab population. In March 2020, the proportion of employees who applied to the Employment Service for work was markedly higher among Arabs than among Jews (32% v. 23%).The main reason for this differential was that many Arabs, both men and women, work in branches that were severely affected by the pandemic and they are expected to be among the last to return to regular employment: A high percentage of young Arab women work in retail sales and a high percentage of Arab men work in construction, manufacturing, the hotel industry, and other hosting services.
  2. The impact of several long-standing barriers to employment among the Arab population was exacerbated during the pandemic. Low-level skills and education, along with their geographic and social distance from employment hubs, increase the employment risks for Arab workers, especially in times of crisis when unemployment rises and the demand for workers falls. Their fear of removal from the labor market is compounded by the fear that employees with low-level skills and education will be the last to regain their jobs or will be dismissed altogether. Furthermore, the level of their digital literacy is low and a high percentage work in jobs that cannot be performed from home.
  3. Nonetheless, the crisis does provide some opportunities for improving the employment status of Israel’s Arabs. Many Arab women are limited in their ability and/or willingness to work far from home. Thus, the economy-wide shift in work from office to home could make it easier for them to find work. Working from home is also an opportunity for the Arab population to improve its technological literacy, particularly among women who work in education. The loss of traditional jobs and the growing demand for technology-assisted employment have created an opportunity to retrain workers who have been dismissed and strengthen their technological skills. Some people who lost low-paying jobs may now find better, more remunerative employment.
  4. To address the new employment challenges of the Arab population, responses should be developed in three main circles of influence:
  • The development of human capital – focusing on unemployed workers and vulnerable branches, providing training for professions in demand to equip Arab job-seekers with the soft skills required by the new labor market, and strengthening their digital literacy, as well as their command of Hebrew.
  • Strengthening structural and professional infrastructure – expanding daycare frameworks for children so that mothers of young children may go out to work, improving transportation infrastructure to make it easier to travel to work, and expanding employment centers.
  • Strengthening Arab public leadership – including the economic development of Arab local authorities, the reinforcement and regulation of civil society organizations, and greater representation of Arab workers in key public positions which can play an important role in initiating suitable, culturally-appropriate responses to the challenges facing the Arab population.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in English, press here.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in Hebrew, press here.