Methodology changes in the way Jews were counted produced one of the more surprising data points in the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s recently released Community Portrait demographic study — a 59% increase in Jewish households between 2009 and 2019.
That’s according to Francine Axler, the study’s research manager, who detailed some of the findings March 12 during the first of two webinars. The Jewish Federation’s plan had been to present the findings in person to different pockets of the Jewish community in the coming months, but the social distancing required by the coronavirus prompted the change to webinars.
Over the course of about 30 minutes, Axler laid out a wide range of early conclusions from the study.
The data points are numerous, Axler explained, but the point of the survey is to weave all those interesting tidbits into a coherent narrative of what the Jewish community is, what it wants to be and how it might get there. The data harvested from the study will be the basis of new community initiatives and funding priorities in the years to come.
Axler’s presentation combined a discussion of the study’s methodology with a six-part breakdown of the most significant data points harvested from the study thus far. At the end of the presentation, the 100 or so viewers were able to submit questions for a Q&A session.
Jews, as defined by the study, included those who defined themselves as Jewish by religion, ethnicity or culture, along with those who reported being raised Jewish or having at least one Jewish parent.
This method of counting was not used in the Jewish Federation’s 2009 population study, according to Axler, though it is how the Pew Research Center conducts its own studies of Jewish people.
Thus, Axler cautioned, the 59% bump in Greater Philadelphia’s number of Jewish households between 2009 and 2019 — from 116,700 to 194,200 — should not necessarily be seen as a massive influx of Jewish residents, but rather as a reflection of the researchers’ implementation of more accurate methods.
Jewish people, by the study’s count, make up about 9% of the population of Greater Philadelphia. By raw numbers, according to the study, Greater Philadelphia can claim the third-largest Jewish community in the United States, with some caveats. According to Axler, as other Jewish Federations across the country complete studies of their own communities with this more inclusive method, the size rankings are bound to change.
Jews of color make up an increasingly large percentage of the Greater Philadelphia area’s Jewish population, hitting 10% in the study, compared to 5% in 2009. Fourteen percent of Philadelphia County Jews and 21% of Delaware County Jews identify as Jews of color.
Six percent of the Jewish population of Greater Philadelphia is at or below the federal poverty line, compared to 13% of the general population, while 10% qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and 15% are defined as being in “near-poverty.” Poverty and near-poverty among the Jewish population is lowest in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties, and significantly higher in Philadelphia and Delaware counties.
Forty-three percent of the survey population identify as non-denominational, consistent with national trends in sectarian identification for Jewish people, according to Axler. Sixty-one percent of Jewish households reported no connection to a synagogue, fodder for several questions during the Q&A session. A third of Jewish adults in the survey population have been to Israel. Orthodox Jews are the most likely to have donated exclusively to Jewish organizations.
Following the presentation, Axler, Jewish Federation Chief Operating Officer Steve Rosenberg, Chief Planning and Strategy Officer Melissa Johnson and Manager for Evaluation Jessica Ranweiler answered questions, many of them focusing on what conclusions could be drawn from the data.
Other webinars are planned for the near future.
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