American Orthodox Jews are financially fragmented but largely secure, survey finds


An investigation into the finances of American Orthodox Jews found that the community is largely financially secure, but worried about saving and spending heavily on education and other cost-of-living expenses related to religion.

Jewish respondents who identified themselves as Modern Orthodox reported an average median family income of $ 188,000 per year and $ 31,000 in annual school expenses.

Just under half of modern Orthodox were confident that they will have enough savings to retire, and 12% feared meeting their daily expenses.

The survey conducted by independent company Nishma Research gathered responses from 1,334 modern Orthodox respondents and 973 ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, participants.

The company contacted the respondents through synagogues and religious organizations. Participants had to register for the survey, which meant it was a self-selected group and not exactly representative of the community as a whole, the researchers said.

This was especially true for Haredi respondents, as the researchers acknowledged that they were unable to reach the most island Haredi communities and said they were exploring ways to do so.

The majority of participants in both groups lived in New York and New Jersey, with smaller numbers in Maryland, Washington, DC, Florida and Pennsylvania.

The data has been broadly divided into Orthodox and Modern Haredim categories. Community membership was determined by how respondents identified with a survey question – as “modern Orthodox or centrist Orthodox,” including liberal and right-wing groups; or as a member of an ultra-Orthodox group, including “Yeshivish”, “Agudah”, “Litvish”, “Hasidic”, “Chabad” or “other Charedi”.

Nishma Research said it conducted the survey because in its previous research the issue of cost was often an issue. In a 2017 survey, the cost of Jewish education was the biggest issue, for example.

Researcher Mark Trencher said studying community finances was “an emotionally difficult subject, but long overdue.”

“The community is economically fragmented – many are doing well, but many are struggling. “

The survey was conducted last month and released on Tuesday.

A Jewish boy in front of the Flatbush Yeshivah in Brooklyn, New York, April 26, 2018 (AP / Mark Lennihan)

Kosher food, expensive quarters

Both groups had median household incomes well above the US average of $ 67,521, with Haredi respondents reporting $ 136,000. Again, however, this excludes the more island Haredi communities, which have some of the lowest income levels in the United States.

The highest paid earners were modern Orthodox respondents aged 35 to 54, with a median household income of $ 218,000

Both the modern Orthodox and Haredi groups have incurred heavy religious expenses.

The $ 31,000 that the modern Orthodox family spends on average on education is $ 7,000 per year per child.

Haredi families spent $ 20,000 per year on education, or $ 3,000 per child, and had larger families. The vast majority of both groups sent their children to Jewish schools, and about half of both groups received assistance with school fees.

(The median number is the middle of the data set, with half the digits above and half below. It is less subject to the influence of outliers than the mean or the mean.)

Modern Orthodox families spent an average of $ 6,280 per year on religious-related expenses, including synagogue fees, donations, summer camps, holiday celebrations, and trips to Israel.

Haredi families spent $ 8,980 per year, with less for travel and celebrations, and more for items such as religious books, religious clothing, and holiday items like etrogs, an imported fruit used during the feast. of Sukkot.

The researchers said kosher food is also a major expense estimated at around $ 12,000-15,600 per year, compared to $ 8,000 in food expenditure for the median U.S. household, but the survey did not ask for details. Some of the cost of kosher food is associated with large families and large holiday meals. One in six families said expensive kosher food hit their budget.

More than half of families in both groups said the higher cost of kosher food and expenses associated with Shabbat and holidays had a negative impact on their household budget.

There was also a significant cost to the place where people lived, as religious Jews have to live in an area close to a synagogue, which are often expensive and in-demand areas, the researchers said. A third of respondents said the location of housing had a significant negative impact on their budget, and another third said it had a somewhat negative impact.

Researchers have estimated that Orthodox Jews spend about $ 5,000 more per year than other households, including non-Orthodox Jewish households.

The majority of both groups said the costs of orthodoxy were worth it, including 89% of Haredi respondents.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, New York, September 14, 2021 (Luke Tress / Flash90)

Fears for retirement

Most people in both groups said they were comfortable covering their expenses, but worried about saving for retirement.

Twelve percent of Modern Orthodox participants and 17% of Haredim participants feared they might get away with it, but just under half of Modern Orthodox and less than a third of Ultra-Orthodox believed they had enough savings- retirement.

Modern Orthodox households had an average of $ 81,000 in non-retirement savings, $ 220,000 in retirement savings, and 78% were homeowners.

Haredi families had $ 24,500 in non-retirement savings, or two months of income, $ 40,000 in retirement funds, and 63% owned a home. Haredi family homes were worth $ 95,000, less than half of modern Orthodox homes.

When all of these assets were combined, modern Orthodox families had $ 514,000 in equity, more than three times that of Haredi families, with $ 158,000.

Overall, half of Modern Orthodox rated their financial health as high, while 21% rated it as “fair” to “very poor”. Among the ultra-Orthodox, 36% said they were in “excellent” or “very good” shape, and 31% said they were not doing very well.

Just under half of modern Orthodox and only 29% of Haredi participants were confident that they would have enough savings to retire.

The ultra-Orthodox were a bit more optimistic about their financial future, although both groups mainly said things were improving or would stay roughly the same.

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