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Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

The Trends: What These Changes Mean for the Jewish Community

In a COVID environment, we are seeing a number of emerging and transformative trends. While these are generic in scope, each has specific implications for the Jewish community. Five sectors are in play: the religious environment, the economy demographic considerations,  socio-cultural forces, and science and health measures. Of the many factors undergoing rapid change, we selected to examine ten specific elements in this report:

The Shrinking of the American Middle Class: The share of U.S. adults living in middle-income households fell below 50%. The financial gap between middle- and upper-income Americans has widened, with upper-income households holding 49% of U.S. aggregate household income (up from 29% in 1970) and seven times as much wealth as middle-income households.

The Jewish Sidebar: One can extrapolate from these findings some specific implications for Jewish communal and religious life. Case in point, any significant downsizing of family units would have a correlary effect on organizational and synagogue memberships.

Decline in American Religiosity: Pew Study (2021)

  • Born-Again: 24% of U.S. adults describe themselves as evangelical Protestants, down 6 percentage points since 2007
  • Religious Nones: One-in-five U.S. adults (20%) now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 14% who said this 10 years ago.
  • Affiliation: 63% of U.S. adults who identify as Christians, down from 75% a decade ago, 6% of adults identify with non-Christian faiths.

The Jewish Sidebar: Assuming that Jewish affiliation patterns are similar to the Protestants, the continued fall off in religious participation and congregational memberships would likely parallel what we are seeing elsewhere in American religious practice.

The Great Resignation” or the “Big Quit”: Why people are throwing in the towel? Employees between 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. 3.6% more health care employees quit their jobs than in the previous year, and in tech, resignations increased by 4.5%. Resignation rates were higher among employees who worked in fields that had experienced extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic, likely leading to increased workloads and burnout.

A recent 2021 Federal Reserve Study found that baby boomers were leaving jobs and selling businesses in order to retire early. This pattern has accelerated due to “pandemic burnout.”

The Jewish Sidebar: Anecdotally, we are hearing similar stories in connection with Jewish communal professionals and rabbis. The “Big Quit” could be particularly problematic for certain Jewish institutions who are dependent on experienced personnel, certainly in such areas as executive management, rabbinic services, fund development, Jewish education, etc.

Escaping Cities: The pandemic has caused both young and older populations to migrate out of cities. A July 2020 Pew research study found that roughly one in five Americans either relocated due to the pandemic or know someone who has.

The Jewish Sidebar: Communal systems operate when they’re around core populations in place, once there is a dimension of numbers, all aspects of the enterprise are undermined.

The Greying of America: One of the outcomes that we will be experiencing will involve the housing market. The number of older homeowners who exit homeownership between 2026 and 2036 is projected to be between 13.1 million and 14.6 million, an increase of at least 42 percent over the previous decade.

The demographic future for the United States and the world looks very different than the recent past. Growth from 1950 to 2010 was rapid — the global population nearly tripled, and the U.S. population doubled. However, population growth from 2010 to 2050 is projected to be significantly slower.

 The Jewish Sidebar: As with the other data being reported here, the aging of American Jewry must be seen as particularly challenging as we should note that Jewish community is simply not replacing itself!

Changing Living Patterns:  With the high cost of housing, student debt, and tighter credit rules, the percentage of non-married young adults living with their parents has nearly doubled between 2000 and 2017, increasing from 12 percent to 22 percent. More recently, buyers have focused on moving their aging parents to live with them. These trends have only accelerated during COVID.

The Jewish Sidebar: The data above simply reminds us of the documented high costs of Jewish living which simply adds to the challenging financial conditions facing young families and singles.

Telehealth: There is a rapid expansion is underway in virtual and remote care technologies as the key drivers in changing the delivery of health care. Telehealth care visits increased by 50% compared with the same period the previous year (2020), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Jewish Sidebar: As the American Jewish community is among the oldest religious communities, the likelihood that Jewish seniors are among the greatest users of these virtual and on-line medical resources.

The focus on Localism: “Local organizations are increasingly getting the chance to prove they can both get better results and be accountable. That’s because of the growing scale of private philanthropy and the desire to maximize the impact of philanthropic spending. Foundations are pushing like never before to get funding in the hands of truly locally rooted organizations and social entrepreneurs.”[1]

 The Jewish Sidebar: This particular finding may actually challenge the Jewish communal system to demonstrate its value-added. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: How Technology Will Shape and Define the Economy

In every aspect of our lives, we are seeing the impact of the technology revolution. The effect of this on the work force will be profound, yet highly disruptive. We are likely to see “two economies” comprised on the one hand of low-skill & low-paid workers and on the other, the impact of a high-skill & high paid sector.

The Jewish Sidebar: We are likely to monitor the contributions of Israeli technology and industries in playing a more significant role in helping to shape the new industrial revolution.

The Rise of Social Capitalism: Following COVID, a heightened attention on the part of the business sector to matters of social responsibility. Part of this focus is the result of the great disruptions we are experiencing in the work force. Attention will be given to the re-skilling and up-skilling of workers. Collaboration will be the new industrial mantra, as will space sharing. Adaptability will be paramount in the digital economy, as we reshape both the workplace and the nature of work.

A growing number of companies moving to signal their social and environmental credentials. Consumers are determining the fate of brands with their purchases. In short, brand activism makes long-term commercial sense. During the pandemic, some household brands are taking the leap. Unilever contributed 100 million through donations of soap, sanitizer, bleach and food. Heinz pledged to provide 12 million breakfasts to school children at risk of going hungry. Moving into the future brands, not governments, will likely drive social policy, as these companies have global reach and financial power.

The Jewish Sidebar: The core take away here of import to the Jewish community will be shifting the existing mindset of competition and territorialism to a focus on collaboration and adaptability.

End Notes:

Some of the data introduced here will fundamentally change social norms and behaviors. Further, the pace and scope of these changes must be seen as dramatic. The Jewish community will need to be proactive in managing the impact of some of these factors.

[1] https://www.devex.com/news/5-trends-shaping-global-development-in-2022-102375

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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