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“Historically, the Hasidim have shied away from doing any lobbying on behalf of aid to Israel or helping Israel on political issues,” said Douglas Bloomfield, a former legislative director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who is today a syndicated columnist and consultant. “Even the Zionist Hasidim have been very reluctant to help garner votes when they were badly needed.”
One-fifth of Jewish households in the New York area are poor. Eleven percent of Jewish households in the area are on food stamps.
While those figures represent a significant increase from just a decade ago, it’s not just the recession that is making New York Jews poorer.
The rapid increase in the number of Hasidic families is pushing up the overall poverty level in a way that won’t rebound when the economy improves.
“There’s kind of a ceiling on what they can earn,” said William Rapfogel, CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, of the Hasidim, citing their generally low levels of English-language secular education and their large families. “The recession issue may impact their actual earnings, in the sense that if there were no recession, they would be making 15% more…. But it’s not the overriding issue.”
The authors of the survey report agree that the growth in the number of Hasidic families is the largest factor in the higher poverty rates, though not the only factor.
The report counts poor families as those with an income level at or below 150% of the federal poverty level, which correlates to $27,000 per year for a family of three. Under those terms, 43% of Hasidic households qualified as poor.
Financial distress is not limited to the ultra-Orthodox. Today, 7% of New York Jewish households report annual incomes of $250,000 or more, while 42% report incomes of less than $50,000. And 37% of households reported that they were “just managing” to make ends meet.
“Realizing that 361,000 people in my community are living in poor households, to me that was striking,” Cohen said.
Though Jewish poverty levels are lower than poverty levels in the general population, the difference isn’t large, and it appears to be shrinking. In New York City, 27% of Jews live in poor households, while 30% of people of any religion live in poor households, according to Jack Ukeles, one of the report’s authors.