Why is it easier to be Jewish in America today than 50 years ago?

Benjamin Schafler and his store (Wikimedia)

Jewish Americans have participated in the American experience for hundreds of years. By focusing on the last 50 years a more detailed picture can emerge of the modern historical life of American Jews. To call something easy is for general discussion and is not an academic delineation. Since the concept of ease is so subjective its necessary to link this term to the broad definitions of satisfaction such as economic security, political representation, and social standing.

The first thing to be cognizant of is that labeling a group can be expedient to identify general trends or causes but every individual will have a specific set of experiences that might not be representative of the whole. For example, the daily life of a person in a rural setting can come with a completely different set of life experiences than someone living in a major urban area though both live in the same country. The concept of the ease of life in American Jewishness during the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century is a complex sliding scale with no absolute definitive answers. But overall themes can be identified by looking at the experiences of the majority.

At various estimates of two to four percentage points of the overall general population, Jewish Americans are a minority group in America. Based upon different surveys the number of self-identifying Jews living in America is roughly similar to the number of Jews living in Israel. As such, Jewish Americans represent the second largest community group of people of Jewish descent living in a single country outside of Israel. America has a plurality of representatives of different belief systems within the Jewish community. American Jews along with many other groups have participated in the overall efforts for a society based more upon merit opposed to race or ethnicity.

Various cultural commentators have noted the importance American Jews place upon the value of education. The attainment of university or graduate degrees was a cultural expectation that influenced succeeding generations. Preparing for occupations that would require a college degree was seen as important step for future success. This positive cultural pressure has resulted in Jewish Americans attaining broad representation in executive positions in diverse academic and business sectors.

Political polling numbers indicate that for the last 50 years by varying percentages the majority of Jewish Americans have voted for Democratic Party candidates in most presidential elections. Thus, one can surmise that the majority of American Jews identify themselves as liberal in their general political outlook. This is also evidenced by recent surveys noting that a majority of American Jews support stronger environmental protections and increased acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Political commentators note that Americans of Jewish descent play an active role in modern politics holding and having held elected positions in both the US Senate and House of Representatives.

As an entry point after immigrating to America many Jewish Americans ancestors settled in Northeast or Midwest states. Jewish communities were primarily found in these state’s urban areas. During the proceeding century Jewish Americans moved throughout America with larger numbers in recent decades found in Western and Southern states. Over the last 50 years, there has been a trend of American Jews relocating to the suburbs of cities. Three American cities with the largest numbers of Jewish Americans in ascending order are New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles while the states with largest percentage in relation to general population are in ascending order New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Jewish Americans participate in state and metropolitan executive management holding elected political positions.

Various surveys over the past decade have shown that Jewish Americans as a self identifying group report higher incomes than the general population. They started a lot of businesses in small areas, such as tech repair shops, bakeries, online services (custom writing services, payment services, internet magazines etc.). In several sectors weighting for equal measurements American Jews hold higher percentages of education degrees and household savings compared to the general population. Though representing an absolute smaller percentage of the population American Jews evidently have attained greater success in various economic measurements than the national average. This could be explained by educational achievements leading to professional career choices resulting in higher salaries and thus higher savings

Surveys have shown that in recent years there has been an increase of intermarriage rates between Jewish Americans and non Jewish Americans. This percentage rate of intermarriage has risen from percentage rates reported over the last fifty years. The various possible reasons for the increase in intermarriage percentages rates is a current topic of discussion among commentators within the Jewish American community. This seems to indicate that current generations of American Jews are more open to forming intimate long term relationships with people from different backgrounds other than themselves.

Only each individual Jewish American could categorically state if life is easier today than fifty years ago. An observer can only look at larger trends to make educated guesses. Current surveys report that a majority of non Jewish Americans appreciate the contributions Jews have made to society. A majority of Jewish Americans attend university and receive higher education degrees. Economic indicators seem to show that a majority of American Jews have attained a middle class or above lifestyle. In addition, American Jews are politically represented throughout the government. These themes can suggest that there are fewer barriers to achieving success for the majority of Jewish Americans and thus possibly an easier lifestyle.

About the Author
Patrick Cole is a blogger and freelancer, currently living in Boston. He loves writing and self-education.