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Population Study Probe Finds ‘limitations,’ but It Will Be Released

January 29, 2003
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The much-heralded National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001 will likely be released by mid-April despite “limitations,” those behind the study said.

That prediction came after the United Jewish Communities, which bankrolled the $6 million study, received the first report of an internal review it is conducting into the NJPS after pulling it because of missing data last November.

The UJC’s sudden delay of the NJPS, on the eve of its annual General Assembly, stunned the Jewish community. It also stirred charges and rumors that the federation umbrella was hiding some troubling demographic trend, which the UJC has repeatedly denied.

Many were waiting to see how the latest study compared with the controversial 1990 NJPS, which counted 5.5 million Jews in the United States and said 52 percent of Jews who had married in the previous five years had married non-Jews.

The latest NJPS, billed as an even-more comprehensive demographic picture, said initially that the population dropped 5 percent to 5.2 million, as women waited longer to have fewer children and the median age increased.

But after releasing those initial statistics, UJC delayed the release of the rest of the findings, which addressed a myriad of issues, including affiliation and identity.

Those involved with the study indicated at the time that the population figures themselves may need to be re- evaluated in light of the missing data.

The chancellor of McGill University, Bernard Shapiro, who led the internal investigation into what went wrong with the NJPS, cited “limitations and qualifications” with the survey.

“It was immediately clear that a range of serious issues of conception, of data collection, and of analysis were present in the project,” Shapiro wrote in his report to the UJC’s board of trustees meeting in Miami on Monday.

UJC spokeswoman Gail Hyman and others on the NJPS team said the review has found that these problems can be overcome.

“There are a lot of little issues and problems with the study, but each of these can be fixed or addressed or assessed,” said NJPS senior research consultant Steven Cohen, a professor at Hebrew University’s Melton Centre.

Once Shapiro and a six-member team completes the review, Hyman said, the NJPS should be made public “in several months.”

One member of the review team, also a key member of the advisory panel for NJPS, expected the study could be made public even sooner.

“I hope the results will be out in the next six to eight weeks,” said Vivien Klaff, a University of Delaware professor.

The Shapiro report largely blamed the NJPS research firm, Roper Audits & Surveys Worldwide, for losing the data and also revealed that a top NJPS researcher was removed from the project.

The review found several problems, including “small amounts” of missing data, “generally due to programming errors by RoperASW during the interview phase,” Shapiro said.

NJPS researchers said the lost data concerned some of the 175,000 people the survey reached.

That missing data, which Klaff and others said could change the overall Jewish population figure by 1 percent at most, is being recalculated.

A RoperASW spokeswoman, asked about the company’s role in the missing information, would only say the firm is “cooperating” with the UJC.

“RoperASW is working closely with the UJC and we are confident the integrity of the study will be upheld,” Malkie Bernheim said.

Other problem areas concerned the response rate for the study, which one source said was as low as 17 percent. Shapiro said the team was comparing the rate to other studies to provide “context” to the NJPS response rate.

The review team also delved into how many Jews who were called for the survey denied being Jews, Shapiro said, and the extent to which the survey may have undercounted geographic areas and some Jewish subgroups.

Shapiro said the review team was comparing the NJPS with other studies that have counted Jews in the West, and subgroups including Israelis, the fervently religious and immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco and a vocal critic of the NJPS regarding those areas, said the review shows his concerns have been heard.

“I think they are attempting to address the issues we raised,” Tobin added. “Whether or not they do so remains to be seen.”

In a demographic study released before the NJPS, Tobin found that there are 6.7 million Jews, and a total of 13.3 million Americans with some Jewish ties.

His study also found 1.68 million Jews in the Western states, while the NJPS found 1.14 million.

Meanwhile, one member of the NJPS advisory panel who opposed delaying the NJPS remains less than satisfied with the review so far.

Egon Mayer, academic director of the North American Jewish Data Bank at the City University of New York, said that while he welcomed the review, “it was never made clear what was the cause of so much consternation” surrounding the delay.

“If, at the end of this process, all we get is a seal of approval,” then the members of the advisory panel who opposed the delay “deserve an apology” from Stephen Hoffman, UJC’s president and chief executive officer.

But the UJC and Hoffman remain confident that “not to release the study at the G.A. was the right decision at the time — we just didn’t want to be in a position of being rushed into releasing the information with which we didn’t feel comfortable,” Hyman said.

Meanwhile, Jim Schwartz, UJC’s director of research, has been removed from the NJPS team.

Shapiro’s report said Schwartz would now work full time developing the North American Jewish Data Bank and providing research to local communities.

When he delayed releasing the NJPS results, Hoffman said Schwartz, at the least, knew of some of the problems for some time but waited to tell his UJC supervisors.

Schwartz could not be reached for comment.

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