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Number of older Israelis leaving workforce is rising

November 21, 2006. Ha'aretz: Ruth Sinai
Although it is illegal to discriminate against job candidates based on their age, in practice most employers ignore the law. Many help-wanted ads specify the age of prospective employees - up to age 26, or between 22 and 30, for example - while others offer a "dynamic work environment" for "energetic" or "attractive" individuals.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), between 75 percent and 78 percent of Israelis from ages 25 to 54 work, while only 56 percent of those between the ages of 55 and 64 are employed. Work-force participation among Israelis over the age of 50 is lower than in other Western countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): 60 percent, as compared to 64 percent.

Older Israelis are leaving the work force at an increasingly accelerated rate. According to Employment Service figures, in the first quarter of 2004, people over the age of 45 represented 39 percent of those applying for unemployment compensation. Within less than two years, in the third quarter of 2006, that figure increased to 44.5 percent. And since most older people who stop working do not apply for unemployment benefits, the true picture is even grimmer.

The official unemployment rate for the 45-plus group was 7.1 percent in 2005, compared to 9 percent for the population as a whole, because so many of that group gave up the job hunt - or never started one to begin with. Those who do register for unemployment remain jobless longer.

The average job hunt for those over 50 is currently 46 weeks, according to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment's Planning, Research and Economy Administration (PREA), compared to 40 weeks two years ago.

"A worker who loses his or her job at these ages finds it very hard to reintegrate into the work force," PREA director Benny Pfefferman says, adding that this is true even for educated individuals.

"There's a paradox," Pfefferman explains. "On the one hand people are living longer, the retirement age is rising, people's health is good and they want or need to keep working. On the other hand, every year employers are lowering the age threshold and demanding younger workers. Many employers ask us for workers under 35, despite the fact that this is illegal. There is a contradiction between these two trends and it creates a problem in the job market."

Woman over 40?

Sarit Dromi, a mother of two and grandmother of two, worked for about 30 years. She began as a school secretary, became a teacher, a high-level secretary and then an organizational manager. At 53, a day before the circumcision ceremony for her first grandson, Dromi was fired in the wake of the forced retirement of her boss.

"I believed I would find work easily," Dromi relates. "I have a ton of experience and knowledge. I write and read several languages. I am good at interpersonal relations and have excellent organizational abilities. I was bitterly disappointed."

She sent out her curriculum vitae to hundreds of places. Even after removing her date of birth and shortening her accomplishments to conceal her age, she received no responses. "One could still see that I was over 40, too old," Dromi says.

Dromi was out of work for four years. She used up considerable savings and feared she would have to sell her home. She opened a writing and translation business, but it failed, Dromi says, "because I didn't have money for advertising." Several weeks ago she found a job with a medical instruments company, for which she is grateful. She is paid below minimum wage, however, and receives a salary supplement from the National Insurance Institute (NII).

"At 50-plus I am starting at the beginning, like a 20-year-old," Dromi complains. "It's terribly frustrating to see all your life's work collapse. It's important to realize that it can happen to any of us."

According to a CBS poll, only 11 percent of unemployed Israelis over 50 think they have a good chance of finding work within the next year, compared with 20 percent of unemployed people from 40 to 49 years old, and 50 percent of those between 20 and 40.

A woman the age that Dromi was when she was fired, 53, is 11 years away from being eligible for a pension or NII payments, while a man her age must wait 13 years
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