Behind the Headlines the Jewish Poor of New York
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Behind the Headlines the Jewish Poor of New York

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Most of New York City’s poor Jews are children and working age adults, and these non-elderly poor account for about 70 percent of all poor Jewish individuals and about half of all poor Jewish households in the city, according to a new study by the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty.

Rabbi David Cohen, Coordinating Council executive director, said the data came from a draft summary of a recently-completed report on “The Low Income Jewish Population of New York Study.” He said the formal report would be issued shortly.

Cohen said the data showed that nearly 77,000 Jews, who together made up 38,000 households, had family incomes below the federal poverty guideline. For a family of three, that meant an annual cash income of less than $7,250 in 1981. The data is based on an estimate by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of a total of 1.1 million Jews in the city in 1981.

The preliminary report said that “taking a some-what higher, more realistic poverty guideline equal to 150 percent of the federal figure, to account for New York City’s higher living costs, there were about 144,000 Jews or 68,000 Jewish households living in poverty in 1981.”

The summary indicated that elderly Jews — aged 65 and older — account for about 30 percent of all of New York City’s poor Jews but, because many of them live alone, they account for about half of all poor Jewish households. These data do not include persons living in such institutions as nursing homes, many of whom are elderly.

Compared to the total Jewish population of New York City, low income households are morelikely to be headed by a young person, under 25, or an old one, 65 or older. Low income Jewish households are also more likely to be small — two out of five consist of only one person, but some are much larger, according to the summary, containing four or more children.

Two out of every five poor Jews live in Brooklyn, the borough with the city’s largest Jewish population. Another 25 percent live in Manhattan and Queens. At present the Bronx has less than 10 percent of the city’s poor Jews.


The summary also presented findings from a sample survey. One was that only one Jewish household in three reported being in contact with Jewish community service agencies.

Another was that, of those poor Jews who were in such contact, the most frequent relationships were with Jewish Ys — 18 percent of all respondents; 16 percent of Jewish community councils; and ten percent with the Jewish Association for Services to the Aged.

In terms of kinds of services or help received, the most frequent situations were of senior centers, 16 percent; help in getting government benefits, six percent; and food and financial aid, six percent.

One Jewish household in four reported contacts with non-Jewish agencies or officials. The most frequent contact — 18 percent — was with a government agency. Only three percent reported contact with a non-Jewish voluntary agency.

The low levels of reported contact, according to the Coordinating Council summary, did not necessarily mean that these poor Jewish families were failing to get benefits. All but eight percent report getting at least one type of social or health benefit.

The most common was Medicare, the federally-directed hospitalization and medical program available to qualified Social Security beneficiaries, which was reported by 70 percent of all Jewish households. Second most frequent was senior center membership, reported by 28 percent, and housing help, reported by 26 percent.

“In terms of the most common forms of means-tested assistance, 18 percent reported getting help from Medicaid, (the government health care program for the indigent); 14 percent from food stamps, ten percent from Supplementary Security Income (SSI) and six percent from NEAP (energy aid) while only two percent reported ‘public assistance,’ ” meaning welfare.

The summary reported that few of the city’s poor Jews admitted needing help. When asked what they found it hardest to afford, they cited, in almost equal percentages, food, shelter, clothing, health care and payment of utility bills. When they were asked what services should be made more readily available, responses focussed most on home care — 14 percent of respondents; senior citizens services — 12 percent; and cash help — eight percent.

Cohen said one of the goals of the Coordinating Council study was to show that, in some respects, the needs of the city’s Jewish poor are different than those of other poor in the city. “In particular, they differ because more of them are elderly and because low income Jewish households tend to live in different neighborhoods from those in which the city’s poverty (and anti-poverty) help is concentrated.”

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