Special to the JTA Jews Hit Hard by Unemployment
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Special to the JTA Jews Hit Hard by Unemployment

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Contrary to popular opinion, unemployment is hitting Jews especially hard, according to Alfred Miller, the executive director of the Federation Employment and Guidance Service (FEGS).

From the last-hired, first-fired Jews in executive suites, to Russian immigrants at entry-level as well as professional-level jobs, to many professionals in the area of human services, a disproportionate number of Jews are out of work, Miller said.

“While people think the unemployment rate, now approaching II percent, is not that bad in the Jewish community, budget cuts and economic problems have occurred in areas where there’s a high Jewish concentration,” he told a meeting of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation Women’s Campaign Advisory Board.

According to Herbert Bienstock, former regional labor commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor, now head of CUNY Queens College Center for Urban Affairs and consultant to FEGS, close to 100,000 Jews are unemployed in the New York City area. Probably some 250,000 to 300,000 Jews are unemployed nationally, according to his figures.


Miller pointed out that some 5,000 Jewish professionals in the greater New York area are registered with FEGS. This number, which represents only the people who have come to FEGS for help, is up approximately 30 percent from a year ago. The number a year ago was up 40 percent from the previous

The rest of the unemployed registered Jewish professionals have been laid off from businesses. They include accountants, architects, chemical engineers, architectural engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, office managers, lawyers, business administrators, and computer programmers. In fact, about 10 percent, or a total of 400, are computer programmers, according to Miller.


“Nobody is safe from this,” Miller said.” Unemployment is permeating the entire Jewish community, the whole gamut of the Jewish economic base.” He noted that, in addition, “Hundreds of professionals such as social workers, psychologists, rehabilitation counselors, teachers, as well as Jews whose small businesses have failed, have registered with FEGS for jobs.”


In presenting a breakdown of the areas of unemployment and the changing nature of the jobless, Miller said that in the past, FEGS has helped the traditionally unemployed, not professionals. In the past, FEGS would handle job placements for 250 Jewish professionals, compared to the present number of 5,000. Last year, he said, with the impact of federal budget cuts, FEGS was handling unemployed social service professionals. This year, Miller said, it’s business professionals from the private sector.

FEGS, he noted, is also seeing an increasing number of Russian Jewish immigrants who were the last hired and first fired not only from entry-level jobs but also from professions, including engineers, office workers, and workers in the skilled trades.

The agency’s Executive Suite Program, a joint undertaking with the American Jewish Committee to get Jews into the upper echelons of major corporations, is also feeling the effects of increased layoffs. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of people who finally got into corporation hierarchies suddenly being let go,” Miller said.


In addition to job placements, FEGS provides vocational training along with mental health treatment services and a variety of developmental business and industry projects in New York and abroad. Miller stressed that six percent of the FEGS budget received from UJA-Federation Campaign provides leverage for the tie agency’s $17 million funding for programs in 50 locations throughout New York City, and Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. Some 50 to 60 percent of FEGS 70,000 clients are Jewish.

FEGS’ far-reaching projects include the American-Israeli Technical Assistance Committee formed eight years ago with Israel’s Ministry of Labor to help the Jewish state’s handicapped. “Eighty percent of the American organizations that joined to provide technical assistance were non-Jewish,” Miller said. “We had helped them develop grants and programs in their hour of need, so they helped us in ours.”

FEGS is currently spearheading a project to revitalize Israel’s jewelry industry. Israelis will be trained to create settings for gems so that the jewelry industry no longer needs to send diamonds to Europe for the final product. The project, an outgrowth of FEGS’ Jewelry institute of New York, will be housed in the Hatikvah section of Tel Aviv, a distressed neighborhood being revitalized through UJA-Federation’s Project Renewal.

One of FEGS’ latest New York projects maximizing government dollars for community needs is a program to bring dropouts back to school. Working with the New York City Board of Education, FEGS’ model programs have brought back 89 percent of the dropouts involved in the program at three high schools. One school, Christopher Columbus in the Pelham Bay section of the The Bronx, serves a predominantly Jewish population.

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