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Survey reveals financial hardships, mental health toll of COVID among Jewish on LI

Alana Rosenstein, Mid-Island Y JCC's director of senior

Alana Rosenstein, Mid-Island Y JCC's director of senior and adult services, said the Isolation to Connection program "is intended to serve as a bridge to the people who may be more in the position to identify isolated older adults," then connect them to whatever services they might need. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Jewish households across the metropolitan region, including on Long Island, have experienced financial hardship, job losses, food insecurity, and anxiety and depression resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a UJA-Federation of New York survey conducted earlier this year.

The federation's survey of a representative sample of 4,400 adults living in a Jewish household was conducted by market research firm SSRS in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, and the five boroughs of New York City, between February and May.

For Long Island specifically, the survey found that those in Jewish households in Suffolk County showed higher rates of poverty, financial hardship and food insecurity than those in Nassau County.

"There's a lot more struggle in Suffolk when compared to Nassau," said Annette Jacoby, director of research and evaluation at UJA-Federation of New York, a philanthropic group that funds hundreds of nonprofits in the United States and abroad.

For instance, the survey found that 19% of Suffolk respondents lived in or near poverty, compared with 6% in Nassau. Overall, the survey found that 23% of Jewish households in the eight-county region were poor or "near poor," with the highest rate in Brooklyn, at 37%.

The survey also found that 42% of respondents in Suffolk and 24% in Nassau reported experiencing financial hardship, while 21% in Suffolk said they experienced anxiety or depression compared with 12% in Nassau. And 13% experienced food insecurity in Suffolk, while 4% in Nassau did.

But on the question of unemployment, the survey found that Suffolk respondents' unemployment rate was slightly lower than those in Nassau — 10% in Nassau compared with 7% in Suffolk.

On other measures of job losses, the percentages were higher in Suffolk. For example, 17% of Suffolk respondents experienced a layoff or furlough, compared with 15% in Nassau; and 26% of Suffolk Jewish households said they experienced reduced hours or earnings, versus 21% in Nassau.

Another area of distress stemming from the pandemic was anxiety and depression, which Jacoby said "was really high," noting it was 21% for Suffolk and 12% for Nassau.

That has prompted an expansion of programs to reduce the isolation, particularly among elderly Jewish residents on the Island, UJA-Federation officials said.

"UJA funds numerous organizations throughout the New York area, [and] we made it a real priority to focus on mental health," said Sepi Djavaheri, senior community mobilizer for the UJA-Federation of New York. She said the study undergirds reports from other organizations on Long Island indicating an increase in the need for mental health services.

As a result, she said the UJA has partnered with several Jewish Community Centers on Long Island and made connections with synagogues and other partners to try to ease people's loneliness and anxiety.

For example, Djavaheri said, the UJA financed a pilot project at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview, called Isolation to Connection, which it has expanded to three other JCCs — Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in Greenvale; the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack; and the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center in Oceanside.

"The goal is to reconnect people," said Puja Malhotra, a social worker at the Mid-Island Y JCC. She said people who were "teetering on the edge of isolation" before the pandemic "were now really isolated" during the height of it. It meant making sure meals were delivered to homes and transportation was provided, a big need for many, among other things.

Alana Rosenstein, Mid-Island Y JCC's director of senior and adult services, said the program "is intended to serve as a bridge to the people who may be more in the position to identify isolated older adults," then connect them to whatever services they might need.

The federation's survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points and was conducted primarily online but also over the phone and in print.

Rosenstein said lingering effects of the pandemic remain. "As things open up, on the one hand there is tremendous desire to be reconnected, but on the other hand there is uncertainty about what’s safe or not safe."

The pandemic, she said, has "created anxiety around everyday activities."

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