Jewish Poverty Skyrockets in New York — Doubles in Size Since 1991

20% of Population Is Poor, Federation Study Reveals

Poverty Amid Plenty: Volunteers pack up food packages at a popup Passover food pantry in Brooklyn. Surprising numbers of Jews are seeking help, even those who once considered themselves middle-class.
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Poverty Amid Plenty: Volunteers pack up food packages at a popup Passover food pantry in Brooklyn. Surprising numbers of Jews are seeking help, even those who once considered themselves middle-class.

By Seth Berkman

Published June 06, 2013.
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Poverty in the New York area’s Jewish community is growing fast with more than 560,000 people living in nearly 200,000 poor and near-poor Jewish households.

The survey covers the five boroughs of New York City: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, as well as the nearby counties of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester. The survey also found that there are twice as many people living in poor Jewish households in 2013 as there were in 1991.

Conditions are noticeably dire for senior citizens and children. Although overall numbers have slightly gone down for seniors, 45% of children living in Jewish households live in poor or near-poor conditions. The largest group of poor Jewish households remain those of Russian-speaking seniors.

The survey also reveals ethnic discrepancies. Households with residents from the former Soviet Union or Hasidic backgrounds are more likely to live in poverty.

William E. Rapfogel, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, said during a conference call on Thursday morning that within many Jewish communities there is still a stigma attached to receiving government benefits. “It’s still a taboo subject,” he said. But there are also elderly residents who do not have the physical resources to even apply for benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

Dr. John Ruskay, execitive vice president and chief executive officer of UJA-Fed NY, said they plan to expand the capacity of volunteers and work with AmeriCorps to create new programs and also create a volunteer corp of older adults. However, the federation is still assessing much of the data to find longterm solutions to tackle poverty in the Jewish community.

One location where poverty in Jewish households is relatively low is Staten Island. UJA-Fed NY representatives said that many Russian speaking residents of Brooklyn see the outer borough as a destination once they are able to accumulate some kind of wealth.


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