Man with Medicine

Does Jewish poverty exist?
Yes. Due to popular stereotypes, many people think that Jewish poverty is an oxymoron; however, there are almost a quarter of a million Jewish people in New York who live in households with incomes under 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. These 244,000 poor people represent 15% of the 1.66 million Jewish people in all Jewish households in the New York area.

There are also 104,000 “near poor” living in Jewish households in the eight-county New York area, who have incomes only marginally above the poverty line.  This makes a total of 348,000 poor and near-poor people in Jewish households in the New York area.

Jewish Poverty has increased substantially in the last decade, while overall poverty levels in the nation have remained essentially stable; this increase is due largely to the influx of refugees from the former Soviet Union during the 1990’s.

GraphWhat causes Jewish poverty?
Poverty in the Jewish community has its roots in the same issues that cause poverty in other communities.  However poverty within Jewish households can be particularly challenging due to certain moral and religious obligations, such as eating kosher food, sending children to Jewish day schools, and living near a synagogue.

What does poverty look like in New York City?

There are 1.7 million people in New York City who live below the Federal Poverty Guideline. That means that one in five New Yorkers lives in poverty.
The most recent Current Population Survey data from the U.S. Bureau of Census found that in the year 2002, the proportion of people who were very poor included:
o 29% of all Hispanics
o 25% of all non-Hispanic blacks
o 12% of all non-Hispanic whites

Compared to the whole of New York City’s population living in poverty, what does Jewish poverty look like in New York City?
Although the Jewish population has substantially lower levels of poverty than black and Hispanic populations, the overall trends show that Jewish poverty is increasing at a faster rate.  While poverty in the Jewish community rose from a reported 7% of the people in Jewish households in 1991 to nearly 13% in 2002, the percentage of all New York City residents below the 100% poverty rate declined from 24.7% to 20.5% over a similar time frame.

How is poverty defined?graph
Poverty is both relative and absolute.  A family or an individual experience relative poverty when they have less income and fewer resources than the people around them. In some places, Israel and Western Europe for example, poverty is usually defined in relative terms. Often, a household whose income is less than half the median income of all households is considered to be poor. 
In the United States, poverty tends to be defined in absolute terms. Since the days of the War on Poverty, initiated during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, poverty in America has usually been measured in terms of the Federal Poverty Guideline.

Met Council has adopted an Adjusted Poverty Guideline, which calculates poverty at 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline, as the appropriate measure of poverty for several reasons:
1. New York City has one of the highest costs of living in the country.
2. Many city, state, and federal assistance programs, recognizing the unrealistically low level of the Federal Poverty Guideline for New York City, have established eligibility levels that are substantially higher than the Basic Guideline.
Federal Poverty Guideline 2011

3. Even the researcher who first proposed the federal poverty standard in the 1960s says it is outdated.  “Anyone who thinks we ought to change it is perfectly right,” Mollie Orshansky stated in 2001.
4. The need for a more realistic definition of poverty is evident from a simple examination of the family income levels for those falling under the Adjusted Poverty Guideline. A family of three persons with less than $27,795 in annual income or a family of four with less than $33,525 would fall below the 150% Guideline. Any such family is clearly poor in terms of what it takes to live in New York City today.

 For further research and information, read our Reports on Jewish Poverty