The National Jewish Population Survey

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The New Jewish Population Study


The National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001 found an overall Jewish population of 5.2 million. The last Jewish Population Survey was conducted in 1990 when there were 5.5 million Americans who could be identified as Jewish in some manner. In 1990 the United States had a population of 248 million. In 2000 the census showed a population of 281 million. Therefore, the Jewish population of the United States fell from slightly more than 2% to about 1.8%. In 1940, when there were about 140 million Americans, the Jewish population was about 4% of all Americans. Evidently, our numbers and our percentage of all Americans has dramatically decreased.

Despite our small numbers we have had as much of an influence on American politics as other ethnic and religious groups. This is not only the product of our educational and business achievements. The electoral vote system in our Constitution has been responsible for giving our tiny community at least some political consideration. Article II, Section 1, paragraph 2 of the Constitution provides for an electoral college which is empowered to elect the president of the U.S. This provides that each state has as many electoral votes as it has representatives and senators in congress. Therefore, New York, with 31 members of the House and 2 Senators, has 33 electoral votes. Florida has 25 electoral votes. Because each presidential candidate receives all of the electoral votes of any state in which he won a majority of the popular vote it is important for every candidate to garner the votes of small groups such as the Jews. There are 1.8 million Jews in New York. This is 10% of the New York population. Evidently, a candidate who gets most of the Jewish vote can assure himself of the New York electoral vote, particularly in a tight race. This is also true of Illinois, Florida, Ohio, California, etc. That is therefore the reason why it is not in our interest to see the abolition of the electoral college. If the president were elected by popular vote, our tiny community would become spurious.

I have called our community tiny and indeed it is. The Jewish Population Study reflects this also because it shows that of the 5.2 million Jews counted by their statisticians, 900,000 are really not Jewish any more. These are people of “Jewish background”, i.e. they are people who do not care to be known as Jewish and who are of course not connected to any Jewish organization or synagogue. Therefore, we are really only 4.3 million.

If we call the 4.3 million “strongly connected Jews” then we find that 79% of their children ages 6-17 receive a Jewish education, or 21% receive no Jewish education. Of course, some of those who never had any Jewish education take Jewish studies courses in college. In fact, 41% of our Jewish college students do so. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that those without any Jewish education are unlikely to be with us for long. Even as we look at this dismal picture we are glad to say that 29% of Jewish children aged 6-17 have attended or are attending a Jewish day school or yeshivah. Furthermore, 23% of those now 18-34 years old did attend such a school.

The Jewish population study gives the lie to the stupid assumption that “the Jews have all the money.” Aside of the idiotic canard which this phrase represents, we need to know that according to the Jewish population study, there are 353,000 Jews, including 81,000 children, who live below the poverty line as established by the U.S. government. This year, 2003, the poverty guidelines are that any single person with an income of $8,980 or less lives in poverty. The same is true of two persons with $12,120, three persons with $15,260 or four persons with an income of $18,400. These numbers are so low that evidently the Jews don’t have all the money but suffer as much from poverty as anyone else.

Two out of every nine people living with anyone Jewish are not Jewish themselves. This means that 2.9 million households, with a total of 6.7 million people, live with Jews.

While the median age of Americans is 35, the median age of American Jews is 42. That means that one half of all American Jews are more than 42 years old. Our birthrate is now 1.86 per woman aged 15-35 while the American birthrate is 1.93. In fact I have seen estimates which place the overall American birthrate at 2.0.

Ten years ago 21% of all Jews in the U.S. were children. Now only 20% of all American Jews are children.

Since 52% of all Jews of marriageable age marry non-Jews it is worth knowing that 33% of interfaith couples raise their children as Jews.  96% of Jewish couples raise their children as Jews.

One important consequence of the decline of the American Jewish community is that there are now more Jews in Israel than in the U.S. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of support for Israel in the U.S. and in particular among those who support President George W. Bush. It can be said with certainty that no American president has ever supported Israel as much and with greater fortitude than this president. Surely it would have been easy for our government to sacrifice Israel on the altar of Arab demands regarding support for the Iraq war. No doubt there are those who believe that we need to curry favor with the Arab nations and ought to give up all support for Israel in order to get the haters to help us in Iraq. Yet, this has not happened.

One reason for this support for Israel is the fact that there are at least 55 million Christian Zionists in this country. Almost all of them are Republicans who demand that Israel be supported in its effort to survive. Therefore it behooves those who want to see the continued existence of Israel to remember that we are a very small minority and that we need our non-Jewish friends if we want to make certain that the 250 million Arabs and their 1 billion Moslem co-religionists and the 300 million strong European Jew baiters can be kept from instigating another Holocaust. Without the U.S. Israel could not survive. Without George W. Bush Israel’s survival becomes at a minimum problematic. Think about this. Do something about it and help your people now and next year when it counts.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).

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