Dollars on the Move: The Changing Dimensions to the Jewish Economy

Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.

Posted on January 12, 2016 / 2 Shevat 5776

Written by Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.


Dollara on the move

 Possibly the most significant social and structural transition taking place within the Jewish institutional world is the departure of a significant part of the “middle sector” of Jewish families and singles from the communal system,in favor of alternative models of participation and engagement. This pattern of disaffiliation is accompanied by the rise of the Millennials and that generation’s disconnect from established institutional loyalties.

As one watches the twists and turns of the world markets, the Jewish economy is also experiencing dramatic changes. A significant number of factors are driving these 2016 economic realities. Several of these developments expand upon earlier trends that were documented in 2013. In addition, this report seeks to identify a number of generic economic characteristics that will have a profound impact on the future of Jewish institutional and community practice.

The Status of the Jewish Economy: Ten Essential Characteristics

1. The decline of the middle class has profound implications for the Jewish community, which has always prided itself as a successful model of the American family. The changing picture of the “near and new Jewish poor” include segments of the Haredi or ultra-orthodox community, a significant cohort of elderly Jews, and the presence of younger Jews struggling to complete their education and to secure entry level positions in this economy.

On the other end of the spectrum, one finds the emergence of a “Jewish Aristocratic Class” that is having a profound impact on reshaping the economic picture of the American Jewish community and its class structure.

In more general terms, middle class Americans now comprise less than half, or 49.9%, of the nation’s population, down from 61% in 1971, according to a new Pew Research Center report. For Pew, middle class Americans live in households earning between two-thirds to two times the nation’s median income. In 2014, that ranged from $41,900 to $125,600 for a three-person household. Jews have taken pride in being identified as an integral part of the middle class structure of the American economy. Will such a definition continue to be valid?

In a related development, job prospects appear to be changing as companies are increasingly hiring more part time and temporary workers. This consolidation and integration of positions in the workforce has in turn changed the nature and character of work in America. What will be the implications for the thousands of younger Jews seeking entry level professional and management positions? Many new workers entering this economy are reporting that they are forced to consider positions below their pay grade and educational preparation levels.

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