Myth: Thanks to their innate abilities, loyalty to each other and deep love for money, all Jews are rich.
Truth. As in any society, there are very rich and very poor among Jews.
Like almost any population group in the United States, Jews came to this country as immigrants. And like most of these groups, they have gradually risen from the base of the economic pyramid to a more pleasant position in the middle or even at the top. But for this, it took decades of hard work from millions of American Jews – however, as well as from American Irish, Germans, Italians and many other national groups. Today we see millions of Latin Americans who have come to the United States and Asians from countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, who also hope to succeed in life, going the same way.
Naturally, each American immigrant group has its own unique characteristics. In the case of Jews – especially those who arrived in the United States between the 1880s and the 1930s – there are two special characteristics that provided immigrants with an unusual economic and social status. On the one hand, many of them fled persecution – from pogroms in Eastern Europe, discrimination in Western Europe, from the rapid growth of anti-Semitic sentiments that led to genocide in fascist countries such as Germany and Italy.
As refugees, Jews found themselves in a less favorable economic situation compared to other immigrant groups. Christian newcomers, say, from Germany and Ireland, had the opportunity to maintain close contact with friends, families and communities who remained in their homeland, and if necessary, even go there and then return to America. Jews who escaped persecution were deprived of such a privilege. In the New World, they found themselves left to themselves, could rely solely on their own strength, and it depended only on the Jews themselves whether they would swim out or drown in the sea of life.
And the second special characteristic of Jewish immigrants, due to the reason for resettlement – flight from persecution. Among the Jews who arrived in America, there was a higher proportion of highly qualified, well-educated people with a valuable profession than among other ethnic groups. After all, a successful non-Jewish lawyer, professor or doctor in a country like France or Italy would hardly want to give up his well-established, comfortable life and emigrate to the United States. People who left developed countries were most likely poor workers, insufficiently qualified or completely unqualified, and they had to develop intellectually and get a new education in America in order to succeed.
In Europe, Jews were persecuted, regardless of their level of education or social status, so many who fled to the United States were already both intellectuals and professionals. And this gave them a relative advantage over other immigrants when they had to compete for jobs and other sources of economic success.
As a result of these mixed circumstances, Jews have become one of the successful national minorities in the United States over the past two or three generations. It is a joy to see that our co-religionists occupy prominent places in American society: in business, law, medicine, education, politics and other spheres. Like many other ethnic groups, thousands of Jews have reached the position of the middle and upper middle class, now enjoying all the amenities and privileges that such a status gives in modern American life. There is a classic story of achieving the American dream, accessible to everyone in this country.
It brings us much less joy that the image of wealthy and successful American Jews does not fully describe our situation in this country. Like any subgroup in America, we also have our own niches of poverty and suffering. There are people among us who, for one reason or another, have not been able to climb high enough on the ladder of success.
Statistics reveal only part of the truth. National surveys of the Jewish population, funded by the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Federal System of Charitable Organizations, show that among Jews in America, the proportion of the poor is approximately the same as among other national groups. According to the latest survey conducted in 2000-2001, about 7 percent of American Jews live below the poverty line, as defined by the federal government. If we add to them those who are close to this line and are considered “economically vulnerable”, then the indicator will increase to 14 percent. In other words, more than 700,000 Jews in America fall into these two categories, including 190,000 children.
Unfortunately, these figures are most likely underestimated. Partly because many needy Jews (as well as other people) are ashamed to admit their poverty during the survey. The second reason is this: many Jews live in urban centers where the cost of living is higher than average, as a result of which the normal income level, according to federal standards, in fact turns out to be insufficient for a full life. For example, according to the norms of 2010, a family of four with an income of $ 22,050 is just above the poverty line. But if you have lived in a city like New York, Los Angeles or Miami (the three American centers with the highest concentration of the Jewish population), then you know that this amount is barely enough for a modest existence.
For this reason, the authoritative Municipal Council on Jewish Poverty recommended using a figure one and a half times higher than the federal figure as a “more realistic poverty line” in a city like New York. If you follow this recommendation, then immediately 20 percent of New York Jews – which is more than 348 thousand people – will be on the poverty line and even lower.
Of course, there are certain subgroups among the Jewish community in New York that are in the most distressed situation. Here is an excerpt from the report of the above-mentioned Municipal Council on poverty among Jews.