Russian-Jewish Seniors Suffer High Poverty Rates

Jewish seniors from the former Soviet Union have a startlingly high poverty rate of 71 percent, according to the UJA-Federation’s “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011,” and Orthodox Jews aren’t far behind, with a poverty rate of 42 percent.

The survey shows that 361,000 Jews in New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester, are presently experiencing a life of poverty. This represents a 15 percent increase in the amount of impoverished Jews in those areas since 2002.

The study placed the poverty line at an annual income of $27,000 for a family of three, and designated that of $45,000 as “near-poverty” for a family of the same size.

Elderly Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews are the two groups who have been most affected, said Jack Ukeles, a member of the survey team. He also stated that younger Russians are fairing better than the elderly.

“Older Russians, who came here with little money and a lot of health problems, are not making it,” Ukeles said. “It’s too late for them.”

For instance, 51-year-old Mikhail has previously donated to a local soup kitchen, but now finds himself heading there every Thursday for another reason. He, a former contributor, is now in need of a weekly meal and weekend food package.

Mikhail arrived in the United States in 1981 and has worked as a technician since then. However, he has been out of work for the past four years, when the shop at which he was employed went out of business. For one year now, Mikhail has been receiving unemployment insurance.

Many of those struggling have been turning to community organizations for assistance. They have consulted associations including Connect to Care, which provides job training and job-placement services. Those in even greater need have been forced to turn to nonprofits such as Masbia, a soup kitchen and food pantry network with several locations across the city.

According to John Ruskay, president and CEO of United Jewish Appeal – Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, Inc., these organizations are facing new challenges as the number of Jews in poverty grows. Nevertheless, Ruskay said that they are “constantly reviewing the most efficient and impactful ways to improve Jewish life.”