The newest research on the United States Jewish population shows that it is growing. Locally, some say the size of the “tribe” may even be underestimated.
Plagued by the ongoing decrease of landline telephones and a growing aversion to phone surveys, researchers today are often handicapped, leading them to suspect there are a greater number of Jews living within their borders than those who consent to be surveyed.
But despite those challenges, two large U.S. university studies, a Brandeis University study by Leonard Saxe, and the U.S. Census 2012 Statistical Abstract from the 2010 Census concur: The number of U.S. Jews comes in at somewhere between 6.4 and 6.6 million.
Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and director of the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, used data from more than 150 government surveys on education and health care and asked respondents directly about their religion.
“From this, we are now absolutely confident,” Saxe told The Forward, “and it has been vetted by all sorts of groups and people, that about 1.8 percent of the adult American population said that their religion is Judaism.”
Dr. Ira Sheskin from the University of Miami and Dr. Arnold Dashefsky from the University of Connecticut compiled information from 900 Jewish communities in the U.S. and analyzed four sources of information: National Federation research, random-digit-dialing phone survey responses, U.S. Census figures, and locally knowledgeable Jewish “insiders” that helped identify Jewish residents.
Some respondents self-identified as Jews by religion, ethnicity, or culture, while others were identified by Jewish-sounding names. However, the main research methods used in the university-based studies were the same techniques used by the 2010 U.S. Census and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle 10 years prior.
The studies confirm that the new figures show a significant uptick from the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, which was sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America, known then as United Jewish Communities, that put the U.S. Jewish population at 5.2 million — and the local numbers support the trend.
In Washington State, the number of self-identified Jews living here is 45,885, according to the same 2012 U.S. Census Statistical Report and published in the 2012 edition of the American Jewish Yearbook (Springer Books). The Seattle Jewish Federation’s 2000-2001 Demographic Study of the Greater Seattle Jewish Population, the last local research done, found approximately 37,000 Jews in the Seattle–Bellevue–Tacoma area. The 2012 figures were estimated at 39,700.
David Chivo, the Federation’s executive vice president, believes, however, that the number might be much higher. Chivo is tracking some less-formal research through the Federation’s extremely popular PJ Library program, the local extension of a national program that mails free Jewish literature and music to Jewish families.
“The Seattle Jewish Community School looked the ZIP codes of where PJ Library families are in the greater Seattle area,” Chivo told JTNews. “What they discovered is that on the entire Eastside, there are 505 PJ Library families, and in North Seattle, from University Village to Mountlake Terrace, there are 500 PJ Library families. This quadrant of the city, the northern part of Seattle, is an area of tremendous growth of families. It continues a trend from 12 years ago. The northern quadrant will be a continued area of growth for the Jewish community.”
Chivo said the Federation is anxious to find this undercounted and potentially underserved Jewish population. He said it needs to come up with different ways of connecting with them and determining whether they are single or married, high or low income, or a more transient student population, like some of the Israelis that move here to work in the technology sector.
“We just learned from the Israeli consulate general that there are 10,000 Israelis in Seattle — that’s 3,000 families,” said Chivo. “They tend to be concentrated in the Redmond-Kirkland area and they work for the major high-tech companies.”
While the greater Seattle area, including Tacoma, is the 15th largest Jewish community in the country, the population still makes up only 1.1 percent of the overall population in the region. Drilling deeper shows that within the metropolitan area, 27 percent of the population lives in five ZIP codes, showing what many people can see from their front windows — that while some of the Jewish population is spread out, much of it is very concentrated.