Focus on Issues Detroit Jews Hard Hit in Many Ways by Auto Industry Slump
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Focus on Issues Detroit Jews Hard Hit in Many Ways by Auto Industry Slump

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There are not many Jews among the thousands of assembly line workers suffering lengthy layoffs as the auto industry struggles with unprecedented problems of adapting its products to a new age of record high charges for gasoline and credit, according to a report by the Jewish Welfare Federation of Detroit.

Similarly, there are few Jews among production workers in the tire and steel industries, equally impacted by the ripple effect of the sharp cuts in auto output. But that does not mean that Jews in Detroit and other auto production centers have not been affected, in many cases seriously so.

The report in the Jewish News of Detroit, by Esther Tschirhart of the Federation, quoted Margaret Weiner, director of professional services at the Jewish Family Service (JFS), as declaring that while Jews “are not generally on the line,” within six to ten months “after the initial horrendous impact of massive layoffs,” the Jewish community “feels it.”


Samuel Lemer, JFS executive director, said small businessmen, including small Jewish businessmen, “are just not doing as much business because their clients are not working.” He said such Jewish professionals as doctors and dentists also have been affected by the layoffs. When company-financed health insurance is lost by laid-off assembly workers, they sometimes cannot afford to pay for medical and dental care and this hurts “the Jewish doctor and dentist,” Lerner said.

Albert Ascher, executive director of the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), said the agency became aware of a jump in Jewish joblessness in Detroit in January, 1980, producing a backlog of cases for the agency, which seeks to help persons find and keep suitable jobs.

Ascher asserted that there was “structural unemployment” in the auto industry, meaning that the non-Jews displaced by that process “will be competing with Jews for jobs in related or other fields.” He reported that, in recent months, the JVS had been helping formerly non-working wives now seeking jobs to supplement the principal breadwinner’s income.

One effect, it was reported, has been “an alarming increase” in the breakup of Jewish families in Detroit, as an increasing number of divorced women can no longer stay home with their children because they must look for work.


The Federation reported that Russian Jewish newcomers also are suffering more joblessness, many having lost jobs the JVS found for them when they first settled in the Detroit area. Ascher said the jobs held by non-English speaking immigrants — factory work, light assembly — are directly affected by the depressed Detroit economy.

Mrs. Weiner said underemployment, in which an employe takes a salary cut or a demotion rather than lose the job, also is a problem for many Detroit Jews. Ascher said Jewish workers are working fewer hours than they would prefer, or they are in jobs which do not fully utilize their educational background and work experience. Mrs. Weiner also reported that existing problems in the family — such as handling teenagers or marital difficulties — may worsen when a breadwinner loses his or her job or when inflation forces a reluctant housewife to enter the job market. She also reported that a growing number of jobless Jews have been seeking counseling at the JFS because they have lost the insurance, formerly a job fringe benefit, which allowed them to get private psychiatric counseling.


The slump has meant increased demands on the Hebrew Free Loan Association, said executive secretary Florence Schwartz. She said some borrowers are finding it hard to repay the interest-free loans. She added that while the agency “may have to call people more and keep after them,” the loan association was not “experiencing any real traumatic problems. The majority are paying” back their loans.

Lerner said the JFS has hired a social worker, Esther Krystal, to implement an effort to actively seek out the jobless, the underemployed and the working poor in the Jewish community. He said there may be such Jews having emotional crises related to their unemployment and that “we would like to talk to them.”

Lerner said help will be tailored to special need. Persons whose jobless benefits have expired will be informed about which public agencies can provide financial aid and whether the JFS can provide emergency help. He said that, in some cases, JFS staff members will discuss with the client the possibility of relocation to another state where jobs in his or her specialty may be more plentiful.

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