Chapter 8 – Education, Income, and Health

The Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community devotes a significant share of its resources toward caring for families and individuals who have economic, social, and health needs. The relative affluence of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community, both financially and in terms of human capital, has meant the organized Jewish community has been able to meet many of these needs.

Nevertheless, it is clear that there are some unmet needs in the community. Aside from the expenses associated with affiliating with Jewish organizations, providing Jewish education for children, purchasing kosher food, and other means of engaging in Jewish life, less affluent families are also more likely to be struggling with basic necessities such as adequate housing and good health. There are underserved households throughout the community, but particularly among the Orthodox, families with children, and young adults.

Educational Attainment and Employment

The Jewish population of Greater Pittsburgh is highly educated, not only in comparison with the overall American population, but also in comparison with the US Jewish population as a whole. Eighty-four percent of Jewish adults in Greater Pittsburgh have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, including over half (56%) with at least one post-graduate degree (Figure 8.1). Among Jews in the United States, over half have attained at least a bachelor’s degree (58%), including one-quarter (28%) who have graduate degrees (Pew, 2013). In the US population overall, 30% of adults aged 25 and older hold bachelor’s degrees, including 12% who hold advanced degrees.

Commensurate with their high levels of education, the Jews of Greater Pittsburgh work in fields requiring significant training, including medicine and healthcare (13%); science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields (12%); business and finance (12%); and education (12%). Substantial proportions also work in the legal system (7%) or social services (6%).

Over half (54%) of Jewish adults in the community are currently full- (45%) or part-time (9%) employees. An additional quarter of the population (26%) is retired. The remaining one-fifth are stay-at-home parents, unemployed, on temporary leave, or studying for a degree.

Economic Well-Being and Income

For the US Jewish community as a whole, high educational attainment has made the community collectively much more affluent than Americans overall. In Pittsburgh, however, the Jewish community’s high rate of college education has made Pittsburgh’s Jews only slightly more affluent than the community around them. Among those who responded to the question about income, one-in-three (33%) households have total income of $100,000 per year or greater, including 14% whose household income was $200,000 per year or greater (Table 8.1). On the lower end of the spectrum, 37% indicate their household income was less than $50,000 per year, including 17% with household incomes less than $25,000 per year. By contrast, data from the US Census Bureau indicate that only 5% of all households in the five-county study area have annual income of $200,000 or greater, and 46% have annual income less than $50,000, including 23% under $25,000.

The estimates of the proportions of Jewish households in each income bracket have not changed significantly from 2002. In both studies, similar proportions of Jewish households reported annual income of $100,000 or above (32% in 2002; 33% in 2017), and similar proportions reported income below $50,000 (38% in 2002; 37% in 2017). It is difficult to know whether these numbers are similar because income increases tended to occur within income brackets, or whether they reflect general stagnation of middle class wages. The shifting demographics of the community, with an increase in young adults since 2002, may also have resulted in a similar overall income profile today.

Table 8.1 Household income

(% of households)
Income (of responding households)Jewish householdsAll households
Less than $25,0001723

The survey also asked respondents to indicate their self-perceived standard of living (Table 8.2). Overall, one-third (33%) of the community describes itself as “prosperous” or “living very comfortably,” and nearly half (45%) say they are “living reasonably comfortably.” But nearly one-quarter (23%) say they are “just getting along,” “nearly poor,” or “poor,” a possible indication of economic vulnerability.

Table 8.2 Standard of living

(% of Jewish households)
Prosperous 7
Living very comfortably26
Living reasonably comfortably 45
Just getting along15
Nearly poor7

Of respondents who answered both the income and standard of living questions, all who indicate that they are “nearly poor” or “poor” report household income below $50,000. By contrast, 10% of those who say they are “prosperous” or “very comfortable” report household income below $50,000. Of respondents who say they are “just getting along,” four-fifths (82%) report household income below $50,000 and one-sixth (16%) say their household income is at least $50,000 but less than $100,000.

Jewish households in Greater Pittsburgh also display relatively high confidence in their ability to afford their own retirement. Seven-in-ten (72%) Jewish households in Greater Pittsburgh are somewhat or very confident in their ability to finance their retirement; the remainder are not very confident, not at all confident, or not sure.

Although there are small differences in economic well-being based on Jewish engagement and other demographic groups, most are not significant (Tables 8.3a and 8.3b). Those who are part of the Holiday group are more likely to describe themselves as nearly poor or poor. Geographically, residents of areas outside of Pittsburgh and the immediate suburbs are most likely to describe themselves as nearly poor or poor.

Table 8.3a Household income and standard of living by household characteristics

(% of Jewish households; row %)
 Income Less than $50kIncome $50-99kIncome $100-199kIncome $200kStandard of living: Nearly poor/poorStandard of living: Just getting alongStandard of living: Reasonably comfortable Standard of living: prop/v. comf
Minimally Involved26577103163942
Squirrel Hill442520113125035
Rest of Pittsburgh31362774145329
South Hills303443131115038

Those who have been in the community for fewer than 10 years are the most affluent, with nearly half (48%) reporting six-figure household incomes, and 86% saying they are at least reasonably comfortable. One-in-ten young adults (10%) ages 18-34 say they are nearly poor or poor.

Table 8.3b Household income and standard of living by household characteristics

(% of Jewish households) (row %)
 Income less than $50kIncome $50-99kIncome 100-199kIncome $200k+Standard of living: Nearly poor/poorStandard of living: Just getting alongStandard of living: Reasonably comfortableStandard of living: prosp/ v. comf
Length of Residence
10-19 years392921115203935
20+ years393118115164534
Household Structure
Single adult(s)59271135234230
Household with child(ren)164127165165228
No child(ren)422721104164535
Respondent Age
Conservative 37183411875431

Economic Insecurity and Poverty

Although the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community as a whole is comfortably middle class, some households struggle with significant economic challenges. As one measure of economic need, respondents indicated whether they received government benefits or skipped necessities in the past year (Table 8.4). These benefits included Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI); energy or utility assistance; SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Medicaid, subsidized housing, or day care assistance; or unemployment benefits. However, it is important to note that some of these benefits are not entirely restricted to low-income households (e.g., SSDI, Medicaid); accordingly, receipt of these benefits is only a possible indicator of financial need, not a definite indicator. Overall, 16% of households receive some form of public benefit.

Respondents were also asked about life changes that had occurred in the previous year that resulted in economic hardship. Overall, 14% report encountering such a hardship. Nine percent report a change in health, such as major illness; 7% report a change in employment, such as a reduction in pay; 2% report a change in family structure, such as divorce; and 1% report a change in housing, such as foreclosure.

In addition to the questions on public benefits, hardships, and insecurities, 24% of respondents are not confident in their ability to save for retirement, and 4% say they have been constrained from participating in Jewish life in the community due to financial issues. Seventy- three respondents cite specific ways that financial issues have prevented them from participating in Jewish communal life. The most commonly cited challenges are the high costs of program or event fees (25 respondents) and synagogue dues or High Holy Day tickets (13).

Nearly one-fifth (17%) of those in the Immersed and Holiday groups have received at least one public benefit in the past year. Similar proportions of the Immersed (14%), Connected (17%), and Involved (17%) groups have experienced economic

hardship in the past year due to changes in their personal or familial circumstances. Over two-fifths (42%) of the Minimally Involved say they are not confident in their ability to save for retirement, and 17% of those in the Holiday group say they cannot afford an emergency $400 expense.

Table 8.4 Economic needs

(% of Jewish households)
Public Benefits
Energy/utility assistance 7
SNAP, Medicaid, subsidized housing, or day care assistance6
Unemployment <1
Family structure
Skipped rent, mortgage, or utility bill13
Insufficient savings for three months of expenses25
Inability to pay emergency $400 expense13
Received Jewish scholarship4
Financial constraint in Jewish life4

Geographically, residents outside of the city of Pittsburgh and the immediate suburbs are most likely to be unable to afford an emergency $400 expense. Residents of the North Hills express the lowest level of potential need as measured by receipt of public benefits.

Table 8.5a Economic insecurity by household characteristics

(% of Jewish households)
 Any public benefitAny hardshipNot confident for retirementUnable to pay emergency $400
Minimally Involved99427
Squirrel Hill1312205
Rest of Pittsburgh1421239
South Hills109161
North Hills111207
Rest of region22104522

Rates of receiving public benefits are fairly stable across age groups, though young adults are the least able to afford emergency expenses. Senior citizens experienced the fewest economic hardships in the past year, are most confident in their ability to afford retirement, and are best able to afford emergency expenses. Households with children experienced more hardship and are less able to afford emergency expenses than households without children.

Table 8.5b Economic insecurity by household characteristics

(% of Jewish households)
 Any public benefitAny hardshipNot confident for retirementUnable to pay emergency $400
Length of Residence
10-19 years19203218
20+ years1412288
Household Structure
Single adult(s)1714369
Household with child(ren)14233113
No child(ren)1312287
Respondent Age
Conservative 1710229

Health Status and Needs

Understanding the health status of individuals in the community is important because poor health can be an indicator of needs for community-based services and may prevent individuals from participating in the community’s programs.

Overall, almost a quarter (22%) of Jewish households in Greater Pittsburgh include at least one person who is in fair or poor health (Tables 8.6a and 8.6b). One-quarter (25%) of households include at least one person who is limited in the amount of work, school, or housework he or she can do as a result of an impairment, disability, or chronic physical or mental health problem. One- third (38%) of households include someone in need of counseling or mental health services. One- third (35%) of those in the Involved group say that someone in the household is limited in the kind or amount of work, school, or housework they can do due to an impairment, disability, or chronic physical or mental health condition.

Table 8.6a Health challenges for anyone in household

(% of Jewish households)

*Note: Discrepancies between the overall proportion and the engagement group estimates result from the former being a measure of households and the latter being a measure of individuals.
 Anyone in poor healthImpairment/disabilityRequire medical health services*
Minimally Involved192118
Squirrel Hill163126
Rest of Pittsburgh192730
South Hills172223
North Hills181732
Rest of region193425

Young adults ages 18-34 (53%) and households with children (40%) report the highest rates of need for mental health services. Senior citizens report the highest rates of impairments or disabilities (40%).

Some members of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community have elderly parents in the area and are either already providing significant care to them or are planning for the possibility of doing so in the future. Nine percent indicate that they have a parent living in the area in a household other than their own who requires elder care services. Four percent have parents living in independent living facilities, assisted living facilities, or nursing homes in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Additionally, 2% of households are providing regular caregiving to one or more non-elderly family members.

Eight percent of households include someone who was constrained by health issues from participating in the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community in the past year. Of the 120 respondents who shared details on their specific constraints, the most common obstacles are mobility issues (54), mental or emotional challenges (22), and chronic illness or disease (21).

Table 8.6b Health challenges for anyone in household

(% of Jewish households)
 Anyone in poor healthImpairment/disabilityRequire mental health services
Length of Residence
10-19 years222045
20+ years233127
Household Structure
Single adult(s)253232
Household with child(ren)141240
No child(ren)222929
Respondent Age
Conservative 92421