If you call the LA Federation with a question about the demographics of Los Angeles Jewry, there’s a very good chance you will be referred to me.
This is both flattering and awkward since my colleague, Pini Herman, conducted the last study 14 years ago, and I have to explain that I can only offer recent history. I still use that study myself as part of my academic research on Jews in cities. One of my recent publications on the 1997 study was published by Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life at USC, and I draw on some of my findings in this and in future posts.
The most typical question I get have to do with the size and demographic profile of the Jewish population in particular communities, along with inquires regarding where Jews are moving. It’s hard to be very helpful with older data, but I have developed some questions of my own for the next study (may it come quickly and in our time), three of which I share here.
Question 1: Is the Los Angeles Jewish population growing, shrinking or remaining stable?
The 1997 report shows only modest Jewish population growth from 503,000 to 519,000. The latter figure is an underestimate for comparison purposes because the 1979 study included the San Gabriel Valley and the 1997 study did not count children raised in no religion by intermarried parents as Jews. If you add in those two groups the 1997 estimate would be 528,000, or 5 percent growth over 18 years. That’s basically a stable Jewish population, and that stability is impressive given that the white, non-Hispanic population of LA County declined over the same period from 53.3% in 1980 to 32.1% in 2000.
Two recent Jewish population studies of San Diego (2003) and San Francisco (2004) reported growth rates of 27% and 36% during the ten years prior to the study. The ten-year growth rate for Los Angeles in 1997 was only 4% by comparison. This suggests that new Jewish migrants to California are moving to metropolitan areas other than Los Angeles.
Question #2: What’s with the West Valley?
The West Valley (Calabasas west to the end of the Conejo Valley) is generally thought of as the place for young families. This was definitely true in 1979 when more than half the Jewish households there had children. By 1997, however, only a third of the West Valley households had children. That was still a higher percentage than any other area, but nonetheless suggests that this area was aging along with the rest of Jewish Los Angeles. Indeed, only 3% of the households there were empty nesters in 1979 compared with 21% in 1997. Has it become an empty nester community in the years since then?
Question #3: What’s happening in the Santa Clarita and Simi Valleys?
In 1979 most of the Jews in the Santa Clarita and Simi Valleys were either visiting Magic Mountain or at Brandeis-Bardin. Even in 1997 only 4% of the Jewish households in LA County were to be found in these two valleys, in contrast with fully a quarter of all non-Hispanic whites in Los Angeles County. In fact, the Simi, Santa Clarita, and San Gabriel Valleys were the only areas where Jews were under-represented in LA County. Moreover, the intermarriage rate there was 56%, more than double the rate for the rest of Jewish Los Angeles. In other words, these two valleys were attractive primarily to non-Jewish whites and intermarried Jews. But we know that both Simi Valley and Valencia have been intensively developed since then. Has the northwest corner of Los Angeles County become more Jewish since 1997, or has it remained Jewishly marginal?