(photo credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson )
The New York Jewish community is home to an enormous and growing number of Jewish poor, according to a study released by the UJA Federation of New York on Thursday.
According to the study, which was based on data collected during the organization’s 2011 study of the Jewish community in New York, more than 560,000 people live in almost 200,000 households defined as either poor or near-poor.
UJA Federation officials have stated that they are “immensely proud” of the report, which they say will play a role in “helping us and others to better serve this segment of our community and form strategies” for combating poverty.”
During a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Dr. Jacob B. Ukeles, the lead author of the report, said that the scale of the poverty among the Jews of New York is “immense,” with 32 percent of community members living in poor or near-poor households. Forty-five percent of the community’s children live in such households.
“In 20 years, Jewish poverty has grown much faster than the Jewish community as a whole,” Ukeles added.
The problem has gotten so bad, the authors assert in their paper, that there are now “twice as many” people living in poor households than there were in 1991.
Education is an important factor in predicting poverty, he said, referencing the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox population and specifically the hassidic community.
Another sector that he said was suffering was the elderly, especially those in Russianspeaking households. There have been large “changes in the composition of Jewish poverty,” he said.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post last week, CUNY sociologist Samuel Heilman noted that one of the “fastest-growing segments of the Diaspora Jewish world” was the ultra-Orthodox community.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom,” the study stated, “most poor Hassidic households do have at least one person working full-time” but “they are seriously constrained by low levels of secular education.”
The high hassidic birthrate “undoubtedly” helps explain the increase of the number of children living in poverty, the report stated.
Among the modern Orthodox, “there is substantial anecdotal and qualitative evidence of real economic hardship in the Jewish community. Many people struggle to make choices between food and paying for day school tuition.”
According to the report, 25% of poor Jewish households are comprised of Russian seniors, with the hassidic sector coming in second with 22,300 poor households, or 17% of the total.
There are a total of 129,900 poor Jewish households, according to the report, which noted that “more Jewish people are affected by poverty in the New York area than there are Jews living in any Jewish community in the United States” with the “possible exception of Los Angeles.”
Much of the poverty in the New York area is concentrated in the five boroughs, with much of that in Brooklyn. However, the new figures indicate that the number of poor in the suburbs has increased by 86% in the last eleven years.
In the summary of the report’s findings, the authors were careful to note that in 21st-century America, “poverty does not typically mean extreme deprivation” but “at the same time, poverty represents a real struggle.”
“We have known for a long time that poverty is an issue in the community,” Ukeles told reporters. “This report shines a mirror on this important and major concern” and can help those charged with combating it.