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Jewish Unemployment

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The job-finding activities of Jewish social agencies in New York City and other large centers of Jewish population bear the mark of planlessness and in adequacy. Scores of com peting organizations, such as the Y. M. and Y. W. H. A., Community Centers, child care organizations, trade schools, immigrant aid societies, family welfare agencies, etc., are operating in a field as difficult as it is delicate, thus creating a harmful duplication of strained efforts on behalf of our youth and thousands of adults as well.

Expert investigations have shown that the records in most of these employment bureaus are inadequately kept, and there is no provision for collecting valuable data regarding the educational, social and economic status of applicants, though without such provision the work must always remain haphazard and almost futile.

On the whole, the Jewish employment problem is now assuming an acuter aspect than ever before. The rising generation will be in need of suitable work, while the new social and economic conditions make it increasingly difficult to secure jobs for all of the candidates in the field.

Specific Jewish handicaps, such as the discrimination evil, overcrowded state of many trades and professions, etc., make it very difficult to find ways of mass employment for the young Jewish generation.


Unfortunately for our people, the much discussed problem of combating in an organized, careful way the curse of Jewish “non-employment,” that is to say, discrimination against Jews, has not as yet reached the stage of definite, fruitful action.

However, right now, when a smaller or larger measure of reemployment is expected, is the eleventh hour to deal with the problem in a way commensurate with the magnitude of this momentous problem. Delay and procrastination on our part will mean that innumerable potential positions for young Jewish men and women might be irretrievably lost.

At the same time the employment situation of the older generation is far indeed from being reassuring. In the future, as in the past, there will be large groups of unemployed — the technologically displaced, the occupationally backward elements, the aging groups and the potentially employable physically and mentally handicapped, —who will find it very difficult to place themselves in industry.

Again, the reorganization process which business is now undergoing will make it increasingly difficult for the so-called marginal self-employed groups of “litle fellows”—the artisans, the small store-keepers, the pedlers—to hold their own in the economic world.


A fair estimate of Jewish unemployed in New York City, at the time of the first unemployment census in April 1930, yielded the figure of 85,000. At the present time, the number must be in the neighborhood of 100,000. Annually, about one-fifth of the Jewish unemployed, or 20,000 males and females, have sought the aid of the four large employment exchange offices affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Charities in New York. Approximately, one-fourth of them were placed in positions.

Now, this large mass of unemployed men and women fall in the age range of seventeen to thirty-five, with the medium age of about twenty-five. They are, on the average, economically under-privileged, well-educated, intelligent and far removed from the occupational interests and pursuits of their parents. This last trait, the emotional drive away from the fathers’ pursuits, is largely to be accounted for in terms of a desire to compensate for the felt inferiority of the parents’ low economic status.

The traditional hostile attitude to manual occupations, even when no other kind is available, is a well-known factor in the employment situation of the young Jew in America. Other factors are the low economic status, the widespread habit of attending evening schools and colleges, and the quick, wide-awake awareness of exploitation or blind-alley employment.


Experience points to the following problems which complicate efforts in adjusting Jews to occupational careers that might prove worth while:

1. The present-day tendency toward an older average population at work, particularly in the professions and the white-collar occupations, in which Jews are assumed to be already over-numerous, leads to a critical condition as regards young Jews who are being trained for these occupations.

2. Jewish capital is largely concentrated in industries that are seasonal, are plagued with an enormous “turn-over” both of firms (e.g. fly-by-night shops) and of labor (hectic hiring and firing), have unfavorable work conditions, and are rather out of place in an industrial economy that obviously shrinks, as the population is stabilized or does not grow perceptibly.

Such occupations are: clothing, textiles, retail trades, light building, foods, real estate, jewelry, and amusements. Their prosperity hangs on an expanding industrial economy.

3. Within these typical industries, in addition, the Jews as a rule suffer from mal-distribution, the majority of them being, not skilled craftsmen, but petty manufacturers, small traders, office workers and salesmen. Technical changes in American industry and commerce are now rendering some of the Jewish skills and special aptitudes functionless.


The lack of exact information regarding the occupational distribution of Jews, as well as other problems of Jewish employment and “non-employment” like the extent and causes of anti-Jewish discrimination, lead to an additional difficulty in the efforts to find a solution for the problem of Jewish mass employment.

In America, unfortunately, vested interests, to whom profits accrue from an uncontrolled labor supply, have militated against a state or federal employment exchange service, such as was in use in this country during the World War. Consequently, no governmental aid, from public employment exchanges, in solving the employment problems of countless Jews can be expected.

Now, however, that the problem of unemployment insurance, which is so intimately tied up with the employment exchange service under public auspices has come to the fore, a way may yet be found to establish reasonable cooperation between the Jewish placement organizations on the one hand and the State Employment Service, on the other. As a prerequisite to such a coordination, a centralization of all Jewish efforts in the job-finding field is absolutely necessary.

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