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Focus on Issues Thousands of Jews Affected by Recession, CJF Survey Shows


Symptoms of economic hardship affecting thousands of Jews were reported by most of the 22 Federations responding to a Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) survey in January, and special aid programs have been started by the Federations, according to a CJF report.

A CJF spokesman, noting that a number of individual Federations have issued reports on efforts to aid Jews in their communities hard hit by the recent recession — many for the first time in their lives — said that the CJF’s 22-Federation report was the first to deal with that impact on such a large proportion of American Jews.

Joblessness, requests for financial help and for job training and funding, and Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) caseloads were reported to be above normal in seven of the eight large-city Federations participating in the CJF survey.

Among Federations of the 10 large intermediate cities participating in the survey, eight indicated above normal joblessness among Jews in their communities and seven reported increased requests for financial assistance and increased JFS caseloads.

All four of the Federations in small cities responding to the survey cited increased requests for loans and scholarships and for job funding help. Three of the Federations indicated above normal joblessness.

The survey also sought information on action programs the Federations had started to deal with the recession-induced problems. Seven of the large-cities Federations reported providing increased emergency financial help since 1981, as did half of the Federations of the large-intermediate cities and three-quarters of the Federations of small cities.


Federations of large cities indicated a significant rise in participation in coalitions to aid victims of the recession; inter-agency meetings; and public policy statements and lobbying efforts. In the 10 large-intermediate Federations, up to six indicated rising activities in such action programs and in information/referral services and job placement services. Federations in small cities also reported a rise in emergency loans and food parties.

In studying the findings of the CJF surveys, Lester Levin, director of the CJF Community Planning Department, reported on April 18 that there are emergency needs which Federations "must respond to now, as well as long-term needs, which will be with us for several years or more." He cited as among human examples, unemployment, poverty and transients.

Levin said the unemployed in the reporting communities included Russian Jewish immigrants, professionals and corporate executives. The Philadelphia Federation of Jewish Agencies reported jobless Jewish men walking into agencies with the attitude: "I am no longer a man; I can’t support my wife and family." Family counselors in Philadelphia Jewish social work agencies are finding more marriage break-ups, spouse beatings, child abuse and suicide attempts "traceable to unemployment. "

The Chicago Jewish Federation provided in 1982 emergency cash to 1,050 Jews; food to 6,425 Jews; clothing to 240 Jews; loans to 240; scholarships to 815; transportation to 2,700; and medication drugs to 500.

The Detroit Jewish Welfare Federation estimated the poverty level at eight percent, some 6,400 Jews. Basic services provided in 1982 and to the survey date in 1983 included $115,000 in financial aid to 267 Jews. The Cleveland and Baltimore Federations reported considering creation of special funds for Jewish families facing foreclosures.


The Jewish Community Federation of Metropolitan New Jersey reported that applicants for Supplementary Security Income (SSI) are finding it more difficult to apply because of more stringent eligibility requirements. Long delays were reported between application for benefits and arrival of the first check.

The Philadelphia Federation reported that recent college graduates looking for their first job have had to take low-paying marginal jobs, a condition which is resulting in stress, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as depression and withdrawal from normal social activities.

In the category of transients, the Federations reported an increase in transient Jews looking for work, emergency housing, food and money.

Levin commented that for the Federations, "these case histories represent increased requests from our normal caseloads of the elderly, the sick and disabled, the low income, and, in addition, new types of clients whom we do not usually see — college graduates unable to find a job; high-income individuals unemployed for the first time ever; women who need to work for a second income to meet household expenses; and families facing mortgage foreclosures or evictions."


Levin added that "these are the general problems of unemployment and economic and emotional stress. Less obvious is what is happening to participation in Jewish education programs, Jewish Centers, Jewish camps and Jewish organizations, as a result of the recession."

"Fortunately, poverty has not been a major problem in the Jewish community, but there is growing evidence that we have a new group of near-poor Jews, living on the edge of poverty," Levin declared. "In addition the cost of ‘being Jewish’ is getting beyond increasing numbers of Jews — one-parent families, young marrieds, and middle-income families, to name the more obvious."

He warned that "hard choices are being made today between mortgage payments and Jewish education, and annual campaign contributions; between volunteer work and the second income."

Among the programs reported under consideration by the Federations are more emergency shelters, food cooperatives, group homes, additional education support for laid-off men and women, and job banks.

The eight large-city Federations are those of Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.

The 10 Federations of the large-intermediate cities are those of Buffalo, Central New Jersey, Dallas, Hartford, Houston, New Haven, North Jersey, Oakland, Seattle and Southern New Jersey. The Federations of the four small cities are in Charlotte; New Bedford, Mass.; Newport News, Va.; and Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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