Volunteer prepares food for the needy
Volunteer prepares food for the needy Israel news photo: Flash 90

The level of poverty in Israel remained stable in 2008, the National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi) reported Monday. 1,651,300 Israelis are currently living below the poverty line; 783,600 of the poor are children.

The total percent of Israelis living below the poverty line dropped slightly, and was listed at 23.7 percent, down from 23.8 percent in 2007. The percent of Israeli Arab families living under the poverty line dropped slightly to under 50 percent, an achievement that government officials attributed to higher Arab participation in the workforce.

Despite the drop in Arab poverty, poverty remained particularly high in the Arab and hareidi-religious sectors.

The NII report measures relative poverty. The poverty line is defined as half of the media disposable income, roughly 2,100 for a single person, and is weighted according to family size.

Critics of the NII system of measurement say the relative measurement means that the percent of Israelis under the poverty line is destined to remain high as long as the top earners in society remain extremely wealthy, no matter how high the purchasing power of families defined as poor may be. Those who support the system say it accurately reflects poverty as a measure of financial inequality.