Jewish Poverty

Last week I shared interesting data about the Canadian Jewish community. This week I want to share some critical data about Jewish poverty in the United States, based on research from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation in Baltimore, the world’s largest Jewish foundation dedicated to improving the lives of low-income and vulnerable individuals.
Historically, predictors of poverty in the Jewish community are consistent with those in the United States at large. Here are some key findings directly related to the Jewish community:
·       Although areas of the country may vary, two major national studies show that 16-20% of Jewish households earn less than $30,000 per year and 7% earn less than $15,000.
·       The 2013 Pew study states that “Jews with household incomes less than $30,000 are concentrated among those who have reached retirement age and young adults (according to Pew, 38% of Jews under age 30 have family incomes of $30,000 or less).
·       Between 1-8% of Jewish households say they “cannot make ends meet.” However, there is a second layer of households – above 20% in many Jewish communities – that are “just getting by,” illustrating a much larger base of households that require assistance.
·       Similar to the general population, Jews with less than a college education; single adults with children; older immigrants; and divorced, separated and widowed respondents are more likely to be low income.
·       It is clear that lack of employment is a driver of poverty for many older adults.
·       Additionally, it is estimated that 61,000 of the 100,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States live on less than $23,000 per year. This includes many survivors in our own Jewish community.
Many of the people in the United States who fall below the official poverty threshold are children or elderly.
In the State of Oregon, for the general population, 47% of Oregon children live in low-income families and 200,000 (22%) live below the poverty line. This puts our state’s rate higher than the national average, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
People age 65 and over make up one out of 10 people in poverty. In Oregon in 2017, 60,900 people age 65 and over had income below the poverty line. However, the population age 65 and over is large enough that the elder population actually has the lowest poverty rate. Oregonians age 65 and over make up 17 percent of the state’s population, but just 11 percent of those in poverty.
We have seen some good news here, too. Oregon’s poverty rate (28th in the country) edged down in 2017 after a drop of more than 2 percentage points in 2016, and our poverty rates have tracked similarly with the national trend over the past decade. Yet, with 13.2% of our population below the poverty line (the lowest rate since 2007), there is still much work to do.

Jewish poverty exists! It is real for members of our own Jewish community. In fact, next week, in partnership with Jewish Family and Child Service, we will be sending a survey to Jewish organizations and clergy to help identify needs and resources related to financial distress/economic hardship in the greater Portland Jewish community. We are fortunate to have organizations that provide assistance to these families in need, clergy with discretionary funds, as well as Jewish organizations who provide scholarship assistance so people are not excluded from Jewish life. Yet, there is always more we can do (for example we created the Jewish Free Loan program).
One way you can help is with our annual Passover4All program, where we hope to raise $5,000 to provide kosher for Passover food boxes for people in need. With every gift of $36 (or more) we can provide a Passover food box for a family in need. Everyone should have the opportunity to have a meaningful Passover seder. Please make your generous contribution here .
Let me close with a rabbinic story about a group of people traveling in a boat. One passenger takes out a drill and begins drilling a hole under his seat. The other passengers, quite understandably, complain that this action may cause the boat to sink. “Why should this bother you?” this man responds, "I am only drilling under my own seat.” The others retort, “But the water will rise up and flood the ship for all of us!”
The moral of this story is clear: one person’s destructive action may literally drown the entire community. But we might add that the inverse is also true: a single positive change may transform an entire community. Thus, the alleviation of poverty, even in the smallest detail, may help the community as a whole to flourish.
Rather than consider the poor person a drain on our resources, we may regard a gift to this person as an investment in the future of the community. With monetary assistance, today’s beggar may be tomorrow’s community leader and giver of tzedakah.
On a different topic, we are so excited that our Centennial Trip to Israel will bring 450+ people to Israel in March 2020. On Monday, the price of the trip will increase by $1,000 per person. Sign up now! Space is limited (we will cap the trip at 500 participants). Do not miss this historic opportunity with our community!
Let me close with this -- we are now in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Basketball Championships. It is wonderful to see how well represented Oregon universities are in the tournament. (Sorry UO men's team last night.) For those of you who are fans, yesterday was the 27 th anniversary of “the shot” by Christian Laettner of Duke to defeat Kentucky and get the school to the Final Four. I remember so vividly sitting in The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta (for those who have been there you know what it is) next to the Georgia Tech campus and watching it happen live on TV. Whether you like Duke or not, it was one of those magical moments you never forget.
Shabbat shalom.


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