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Adjusting Our Lives

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Dr. Frank’s column appears in this space on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Throughout the civilized world, with few exceptions, old age pensions for the needy aged, by the State, have been in force for many years. In the United States, however, this modern approach to the problem was, until a few years ago, combatted as a socialistic importation from Germany. However, confronted by appalling statistics on dependency, notwithstanding our boasted prosperity, Nevada, Montana and Pennsylvania enacted old age pension laws in 1923, with varying qualifications for eligibility.

Although the Pennsylvania statute was declared unconstitutional, other states took up the issue. A very decided stimulus was given the entire movement by the organization, early in 1927, of the American Association for Old Age Security. Its executive secretary and living source of inspiration, Mr. Abraham Ep### combines the fervor of an apostle of social justice with the methodical precision of an auditor or actuary.

Twenty five states, including New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, etc., have already adopted old age relief laws, nine states having fallen in line last year. Over 100,000 old persons in America are now receiving old age pensions of from $20 to $30 a month. In 1930 there were but 4,000. This will give some indication of the rapid spread of the movement.

To what extent will the rapid enactment and enforcement of the old age pension laws affect the Jews among the poor aged and the Jewish institutions caring for the aged?


To be eligible, one must be a citizen of the United States. Most states require that applicants shall have been citizens for long periods of time ranging from ten to twenty years. Although the Jewish immigration in the past decade was not considerable (some 85,000) this provision will exclude a great many Jews, whose naturalization has been delayed, from receiving a pension.

A parallel requirement is that of residence. For instance, an applicant must be a resident of New York State for ten years to be eligible. Most states require fifteen years, Massachusetts requires twenty years. All the populous states, which have thus far adopted pension laws (New York, California, New Jersey, etc.) have established seventy as the pensionable age. The less populous states have fixed sixty-five. The large group of aged between sixty-five and seventy are, therefore, ineligible for a pension. If faced with dependency, they would be forced to seek help either in a welfare agency or in a home for the aged.


Practically all old age pension acts definitely declare inmates of public institutions, such as poor-houses and county homes, and of private homes for the aged, as ineligible for state pensions. Of course, this provision was adopted in order to limit the number of pensioners.

Unfortunately, in New York City, with the exception of a few Jewish institutional heads, the superintendents of over eighty private homes were opposed to the state granting pensions to their inmates. Although almost all Jewish homes are facing grave financial difficulties, many non-Jewish homes apparently were not in need of this additional money. As a rule, they have built up large endowment funds.

The fundamental reason for the opposition is the unwillingness of the institutional heads to have the state interfere in their management. This is an erroneous view: a home for the aged is not a private affair any more than an orphan asylum is a private affair.

As things stand now, the great majority of the Jewish aged are anyhow prevented from being provided for in the way of state pensions. Many persons, who are too old to work and must be excluded by the present laws because of age, citizenship or residence requirements. Thus, the need for Jewish homes for the aged has for the time being not been modified by the establishing of old age pension laws. It will probably take five to ten years before their effects are at all noticeable on the functions of our homes.


The laws, as they now stand, will for the next few years leave the Jewish homes for the aged in the position they have been previous to the enactment of such legislation.

One of the large homes in New York has found, on the basis of the first five months’ experience, that there has been no noticeable decrease in the number of applications for admission, and only three inmates left voluntarily to qualify for a pension. They were actuated by a desire to live with their children, who formerly had been unable to provide for them.

One of the large homes in Brooklyn finds that it has not been affected to any extent by the pension laws. In only one case of the 120 on the waiting list was there preference shown for a pension. In two cases, children of inmates made applications for pensions for their parents now in the institution.

A large institution in California a year and a half after the passage of the pension act finds the demands upon it as heavy as ever.

Thus with the completely negligible effects of state old age relief upon Jewish homes, and with the type of Jews (of strictly orthodox religious observances) who make up the homes’ populations, there need be no relation between the state law and the part played by these institutions in American Jewish life. The need for homes will in no way be diminished.


The preference of the orthodox Jew for the home, as compared with private care in a boarding house, is well justified. With the gradual passing of the present generation, however, there will come a change in the attitude on this question. To the second generation the advantages of life in an orthodox home for the aged will not matter much. Then a decided preference for a pension will probably manifest itself. Accordingly, ablebodied aged persons will properly be taken care of in private homes, with relatives or strangers, with the aid of a state pension.

Dr. Frank’s column appears in this space on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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