He was wealthy and successful. And then the economy crashed. He lost more than $1,000,000 and then used up his remaining savings while he spent more than two years job hunting. He's at the end of his rope. He's on the edge of homelessness. Here is his story.
From Riches To Rags: A Story Of Jewish Joblessness And Impending Homelessness
By Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
I exchanged emails yesterday with a former executive. Now in his mid-50s, he had held a number of high profile jobs, ending in a decade-long stint as the founder and president of his own company.
Unfortunately, that company was part of an industry that was, in the west coast area he lives in, nearly wiped out by the economy’s meltdown. He personally lost more than one million dollars, and he was forced to close his company and look for work.
More than two years have passed. He hasn’t found a job although he continues to look. Age works against him and his former industry is still very depressed.
He lived off his savings and retirement fund. But that option no longer exists, he told me, because it’s all gone. He can make it for a short time more, a few weeks, and then he’ll be homeless.
I asked if he contacted his local Jewish Federation or Jewish Family and Children’s Service for financial help. He told me he was offered a small amount of food assistance but no more. He also told me he is not the only local Jew in his position, and the Federation and JFCS can’t afford to help everyone.
I checked his local Federation’s website and the website of the JFCS. On screen, it looks good. The Jewish Family and Children’s Service has a free loan fund that seems better than most and lists a number of other programs that would benefit someone in the former executive’s position.
But the JFCS and the local Federation do not have housing assistance for people who are not elderly. It has no job retraining programs or transitional housing for people who need it. And neither does the government.
The needs the JFCS and Federation meet are needs common in a good economy – not the needs of today’s deep recession, and not the needs of people in their mid-50s trying desperately to find work in an economy that heavily favors the young.
This man is depressed. He’s also suicidal.
The JFCS can help him with counseling. It even has a consulting psychiatrist who can prescribe medicine if need be.
But the Jewish community can do little to alleviate the source of this man’s depression and terror – his impending homelessness caused by long term joblessness.
As I’ve noted before, the Jewish community in the United States often chooses the projects it backs based on available government funds.
There are government funds available for senior citizen housing, so the community builds such housing. No government funds are available for housing for non-senior citizens who are not disabled or mentally challenged, so the Jewish community has no housing for them.
In other words, instead of filling the hole created by years of bad government, the Jewish community stands by and watches people trip and fall in it.
For at least 50 years, the Federations seriously underfunded Jewish education. Then, about 15 years ago, the Federations saw the fruits of their neglect come to full bloom: declining Jewish identity became no Jewish identity at all and affiliation rates plummeted. Older donors died and younger ones did not step up to take their places.
The Federations did not respond by putting the needed funds into Jewish education. Instead, it seated commissions, studied the attrition problem and then funded a series of programs meant to make the Federations appear more hip. By and large, they failed.
I think the Federations are on the cusp of another event that, in hindsight, will impact the Jewish community as negatively as its mistake with Jewish education. It may even prove to be the Jewish community’s downfall.
It is not business as usual in America. Individual Jews seem to know this, but the Jewish community apparently does not.
Ten years from now, we’ll look back and see another great attrition from the community, one that started in 2007 and continued unabated.
Some of these missing Jews will have left because, in the time of their great need, the Jewish community did not help them. As they faced homelessness and life on the streets, the Jewish community offered them a few boxes of mac and cheese and its deepest sympathies.
Others will have left because they no longer want to affiliate with a community whose normal response to Jews in need is to refer them to city, county and state agencies for help and then shrugs its Armani-clad shoulders when the government can’t help.
And still others, mostly the young, will find meaning outside the Jewish community. They will support the organizations seen as making change, from food shelves to innovative educational programs to other spiritualities and religions that put helping people before plaques on buildings and $3,000 yearly synagogue memberships.
And some, hopefully very few, will be gone because they could not get the medical care they needed or because being poor and homeless in a community of plenty was too shameful for them to bear.
The Federations will certainly take notice of all this.
They’ll seat commissions – which they will amply fund – to study the problem and propose solutions. They may come to admit they were wrong.
But it will be too late, especially for those Jews who solved their homelessness, poverty and shame with graves.
The Jewish community needs to immediately address the very real and growing problem of Jewish poverty and homelessness. We also need to strongly lobby the government to implement solutions that will help all those in need, regardless of religious affiliation.
If it helps you care about the problem and implement solutions, view it as a problem of Jewish continuity.
But by all means act now. There are many former executives and laid off workers who desperately need your help.