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The Reality of Jewish Poverty in New York City

What a newly-released UJA study reveals

Batya Ungar-Sargon
June 13, 2013
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On June 9, Congressman Jerrold Nadler announced legislation that would increase the tax credits poor families could claim. Under the current law, a family can claim a total of 45 percent of income for an Earned Income Tax Credit if they have three children or more. But the law maxes out at three; the amount they can claim doesn’t change whether they have three children or 10 children.

In contrast, Nadler’s Tax Fairness for All Families Act of 2013 would directly relate the EITC to the number of children in a specific family. A family with four children, for example, would be eligible for a 50 percent credit; a family with five eligible for a 55 percent credit, all the way up to families with seven or more children, who would be eligible for a 65 percent credit. “Under current law, a family with seven children making $26,000 per year receives an EITC of $5,385,” the press release states. “Under Nadler’s bill, that same family would receive $8,070 in their EITC.”

Nadler’s district extends from the Upper West Side of Manhattan down into Brooklyn—including, probably most importantly for this bill, Borough Park. But a recent UJA study shows that the most at-risk community in the greater New York City area is not in Borough Park but actually Brighton Beach. On June 6, the UJA released its 2011 poverty report, which contained shocking results. Contrary to what some might expect, Hasidic households do not make up the lion’s share of poverty-stricken households in the New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester area. They’re listed at 17 percent.

Instead, the largest group of poor Jewish households come from a heart-wrenching demographic: senior households, which make up 42 percent of all Jewish households in poverty. Of these, 26 percent are Russian-speaking households, and 16 percent are non-Russian-speaking households (33,900 and 20,200, respectively)—72 percent of all Russian-speaking senior households are below the poverty line. Compare this to the percentage of families including a person with a disability, 54 percent of whom live in poverty, or the percentage of Hasidic families who live in poverty (45 percent).

What’s perhaps most upsetting is the finding that these people are not even taking advantage of the help that is available to them: Only 13 percent live in public housing; 33 percent have Medicaid; 48 percent receive SNAP (food stamps). And some feel that the situation of the near poor is even worse. A near poor individual makes $15,000-$26,000 yearly, but rarely qualifies for social services. Only 14 percent of the near poor are on food stamps, and only 13 percent have Medicaid. Regarding assistance from philanthropic sources, the study found that “poor households appear to have greater difficulty getting occupational assistance, and near-poor households have greater difficulty in getting help with food or housing.”

Batya Ungar-Sargon is a freelance writer who lives in New York. Her Twitter feed is @bungarsargon.