Education and Employment Among Ethiopian Israelis
Author: Taub Center Staff Bulletin Articles

A study by Taub Center researchers indicates an improvement in the education and employment of young adults of Ethiopian origin who grew up in Israel relative to those who immigrated to the country at a later age. Nevertheless, the education level and labor market integration of young Ethiopian Israelis is not as good as that of young non-Ethiopian Jews.

A few months ago, widespread protests among the Ethiopian-Israeli community arose, resulting from feelings of discrimination and oppression within the community. Following the protests, Taub Center researchers Hadas Fuchs and Gilad Brand examined the education and employment characteristics of this population. In order to identify trends with regard to integration, the research distinguished between Ethiopian Israelis born in Israel (or who immigrated at or before the age of 12) and those who arrived at an older age. The findings showed that young Ethiopian Israelis raised in the country are catching up to the general Jewish population, although gaps between the two groups are still evident. In general, the Ethiopian Israeli population is characterized by levels of education that are lower than those of the rest of the Jewish population. In 2012, the share of those qualifying for bagrut (matriculation certification) reached 54% among those Ethiopian Israelis who took the tests, compared to 73% among all those tested in the Jewish education system. Among those who qualified for bagrut, the share with a score high enough for acceptance to university was 56% among Ethiopian Israelis compared to 84% among the general Jewish population. The education gaps are also evident when looking at the share of academic degree holders in the population. The first figure shows that among Ethiopian Israelis who were born in Israel or who immigrated to Israel at a young age, the share of those with higher education is approximately 20%. This rate represents a substantial improvement from those Ethiopian Israelis who immigrated after age 12 (about 6%) and a higher rate than that found in the Arab Israeli sector. Nevertheless, it is still low compared to the rest of the Jewish population, where the rate is about 40%.

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According to Fuchs and Brand’s research, educational gaps between Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian Jews manifest themselves in the labor market. 62% of Ethiopian Israelis who immigrated over the age of 12 are in occupations characterized by low skill levels, compared to 44% among the rest of the Jewish population. Only about 5% of those who immigrated to Israel at a later age are employed in occupations that require a high skill level, compared to 33% among the rest of the Jewish population (including managers). As the second figure shows, a relatively high share of Ethiopian Israelis who immigrated to Israel at a later age – about half of employed women and 17% of employed men –work as cleaning or kitchen workers. In contrast, the rate among Ethiopian Israelis educated in Israel is similar to the rate among the rest of the population (3.9%). Furthermore, the likelihood of being employed in cleaning and kitchen services is highly dependent on the number of years lived in Israel and an individual’s age of emigration from Ethiopia. As the number of years in Israel decreases and the age of immigration to Israel increases (up to age 20, after which the effect is no longer significant), the probability of working in cleaning and kitchen services is greater.

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Examining the cohort of 30-35-year-olds shows that Ethiopian Israelis educated in Israel are better off relative to those who immigrated at a later age, even though they still lag behind the rest of the Jewish population. About 21% of Ethiopian Israelis who were educated in the country are in high-skilled occupations compared to 40% of the non-Ethiopian Jewish population. About 60% of Ethiopian Israelis educated in Israel are in low or unskilled occupations, compared to 41% among the rest of the Jewish population. One of the claims regarding the employment challenges of this population is that there exists discrimination in the labor market. It is likely, however, that the lower education level and the lack of needed skills make it difficult for Ethiopian Israelis to effectively integrate into the modern labor market. In order to further understand the effect of education, the occupational distribution of the population among those with an academic degree was examined. As shown in the third figure, among those with an academic degree, there is no substantial difference between Ethiopian Israelis and the rest of the Jewish population except for a low share of managers among Ethiopian Israelis. In other words, Ethiopian Israelis with academic degrees generally integrate effectively into those occupations requiring a higher education. Nevertheless, examining the wages of Ethiopian Israelis with an academic degree shows that although they integrate into high-level occupations, their incomes are low relative to others in the same employment category. These gaps are apparently due to the concentration of Ethiopian Israelis with higher education into occupations that pay relatively less. Specifically, many Ethiopian Israeli degree holders in high-skilled occupations work in the welfare services and teaching fields, which are relatively low-paying professions. This finding suggests that this population might have less access to academic majors that are considered more prestigious and that lead to higher wages.

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The overall picture from the Taub Center research is positive: Ethiopian Israelis raised in Israeli are substantially narrowing the wide gaps in education and employment that exist between those Ethiopian who immigrated at a later age and the general Jewish population. Nevertheless, attention should be paid to the differences between Ethiopian Israelis raised in Israel and Israelis of other origins, especially among those with higher education. As Fuchs and Brand have found, an academic degree, in and of itself, is not sufficient to narrow gaps. This finding supports the importance of modern, high-quality education (with an emphasis on access to various fields of study and prestigious employment opportunities) in ensuring proper integration into and advancement within the labor market.

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