Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jewish Economics Survey Notes III

It's really exciting that the Jewish Economics Survey has grown from a short but hopeful thought to something that can have at least a small impact on the Orthodox Jewish community if not a larger one. The focus for now is on the upcoming presentation in Washington Heights, but the option of presenting it in other venues afterward both in the tri-state area and outside of it is certainly open for discussion.

One of the many tasks now is to figure out which aspects of the survey to focus on when presenting it, and how to present it. While I already have some idea of which points are important to get across, which lessons are important to share, and which data is useful, I'm still trying to determine which are the best of all of those. That's probably the most difficult part, as balancing what's important and what's interesting is a very tricky proposition.

Another task that's important is to spread the survey itself as far and wide as possible. I'll probably be approaching individuals in different communities to help spread it among their communities, from Yahoo! Groups to organizations, from shuls to schools. Despite the somewhat raw nature of this first survey, it has been great to get almost all positive or instructive feedback from people who've taken it or looked at it. A couple of people noted that they actually create surveys professionally, and suggested ideas and made comments that I've found to be quite helpful. What was especially nice was to discover that people who had taken the survey then took the next step and passed it along. On Friday, a friend e-mailed me that someone in their small "out of town" community had taken the survey, liked it, found it worthwhile, and passed it along on the community message board. On Friday and motzei Shabbos, a bunch of people from just that small community took it just from that one posting. The more the survey can be spread in ways such as that, the better. (Volunteers? :) )

On to some interesting comments and responses submitted recently...

In response to "How important do you think it could be for friends and family to take this survey?"
  • Very, it really helps you become more aware of your spending. I would like to now chart my monthly/yearly expenses.
  • We actually did Paamonim [Ez: A Jewish organization that I believe helps people with finances and the like], and had to get up and find our paperwork ("dunno" was an unacceptable answer:-) That was about 10 hours of guided counseling. I think this survey would be more helpful if an article or video that explains the importance of financial record keeping and budgeting would precede it.
In response to "What do you think is/are the most important financial issue(s) facing the Orthodox Jewish Community?"
  • Tuition costs and families' inability to pay them
  • No one has money to give to worthwhile charities
  • High cost of Kosher/Chalav Yisroel food
  • Tuition, funding for social services/counseling
  • Covering cost of tuition and mortgage/rent
  • Tuition, large families
  • Keeping up with everyone else, tuition is a fortune
  • Unemployment
  • That we go into debt for tuition (which is a necessary expense) and simchos (which are terribly overdone)
In response to "What financial advice would you give a young adult or young couple?"
  • Don't waste money on wedding and engagement indulgences. Try to save.
  • Move to Nebraska.
  • Live as frugally as possible, and save as much as you can before your kids are of school age. Start saving when you are single.
  • Ask for help when you need advice.
  • Budget yourselves.
  • Have less children.
  • Move to Israel.
  • Save a ton, don't buy prepared foods, both of you have to work, don't have a million kids and expect everyone else to pay for you.
  • Save your money!
  • Save, save, and save.
  • Don't have kids.
We very recently added a question prior to the survey asking how firm of a grasp the person thinks they have on their finances and budgeting. After the survey, the question is repeated with the same choices. While most people have checked the same response both before and after the survey, a couple of respondents downgraded their level of knowledge after taking the survey. Another upgraded their level of knowledge.

  • The numbers on life insurance are still dreary, but improving slightly, perhaps as more replies are coming from older groupings. As of now, 61% have life insurance. (96% have health insurance for themselves, though some spouses do not.)
  • Among couples where both parents are 30+ years of age, there are approximately four children per family. 43% of families where both parents are 40+ have five or more kids.
  • The average person or family that listed how much they give gives less than $5,000 in tzedakah a year. 10% answered $10,000 or more.
  • The average credit card debt of those who have it (31%) is $21,000+.
  • Spending on clothes runs from $50-$10,000 a year. 28% listed $2,000 or more.
  • 77% of respondents are members of a shul.
  • The survey has spread to 5 countries, 22 states, 54 cities, and 84 neighborhoods (though that may include double-counting).
  • The NY/NJ vs. everywhere else patterns are still holding strong. 53% of the people in the NY/NJ area rent; just 28% of the respondents elsewhere in North America rent, while 72% own.
  • If you classify places like West Hempstead, Highland Park, and others as outside of NY/NJ, the numbers are even stronger, with 56.4% renting in NY/NJ and 73.8% owning outside of it.


  1. Can you say how many have taken it already?

  2. I'd rather not say that at this point.

    Enough that you can trust the basic trends but nowhere near enough to trust specific statistics, hence the examples listed. Just to give an easy example, even a simple Yes/No like life insurance has moved 4 points over a few weeks; 4 isn't a lot, so the range is probably close, but the specific number is not going to be 61%. I'll be the first to acknowledge that the data in this go-round of the survey will not be scientific and can only be trusted to a certain extent.

  3. I'm very interested to know where the people that took this survey shop for groceries, diapers, and paper goods. Additonally, how much they spend on groceries per week, as well as babysitting.