Labor Day reminds us that Jews have been prominently associated with labor union membership, leadership and organizing. The urge to labor empowerment is strong and has often found expression in the Jewish community through the avenue of self-employment.
In Pre-WWII Europe and the US roughly half of all Jews were self-employed as compared to about a fifth of all non-Jews. Recently as 2000, about a quarter of Jewish workers in the US were self employed as compared to less than a tenth of non-Jewish workers.
In Los Angeles, the 1997 Jewish Population Survey found over a third of working Jews were self-employed as compared to 8 percent of the general population. 79 percent of LA Jews were employed in private businesses, 13 percent by government and 8 percent by non-profit organizations. Higher self-employment rates among Jews mean lower eligibility for the unemployment benefit safety net.
The 1997 Jewish unemployment rate of 3.4 percent was about half the unemployment rate of the general population. If the unemployment ratio has held for Jews, then currently the Los Angeles county unemployment rate is 13.3 percent and for Jews it is estimated at 6 percent of the Jewish working population or an estimated 25,000 unemployed LA Jews, with the largest concentrations in the Valley and then Fairfax area if historical LA patterns hold true.
As noted in a recent editorial in the Jewish Journal, current timely information hasn’t been gathered for 14 years, so these are at best, educated guesses regarding the needs of the community.
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