As the national unemployment rate remains stuck at 9.6 percent, one man with a unique vantage point on the Jewish sector said the job picture is slowly beginning to improve.
Benjamin M. Brown is the founder of JewishJobs.com, one of the leading, and perhaps the only, “clearinghouse for Jewish communal jobs” on the Internet, as he put it.
Like the rest of the country, employment in the Jewish sector tanked during the recent recession, Brown said. He can tell by the ebb and flow of activity on his website.
“Right now, 150 jobs per month are posted,” at JewishJobs, Brown said. “That is considerably lower than where we were three years ago when we might have gotten 400 jobs posted a month or 350 — that would roughly be the high and the low.”
Simultaneously, the site is attracting about 2,000 unique visitors a day — also down from three years ago.
Fewer postings means less traffic, he said.
“I do believe we were getting more people when we had more job listings, and that kind of makes sense,” Brown said. “When there are more jobs to view it appeals to more people and we get more visitors.”
Tracking unemployment among Jews is next to impossible. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not break down employment figures by religion.
Anecdotally though, the labor market during the recent recession appeared just as bleak in the Jewish sector as it did nationwide:
• In 2009 the Union for Reform Judaism announced a round of layoffs and organizational changes as it reduced its budget by 20 percent;
• That same year, three of the largest Jewish federations in the United States — New York, Cleveland and Atlanta — announced significant layoffs;
• Also in 2009, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which trains Conservative rabbis, and Yeshiva University (Orthodox), both announced budget cuts of 20 and 15 percent, respectively;
• The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) shut down, saying in a statement it could no longer survive in the economic climate; and
• Locally, State of Israel Bonds cut its Pittsburgh staff to one man and Bnai Zion closed its office here altogether. Congregations, schools and agencies here and around the country have tightened their belts.
But Brown said the situation might be about to improve.
“When things were getting cut back I definitely heard about it,” he said. Now, “I think things are starting to build … I do think some people are finding their skill sets are in demand and they are getting job offers that are steps up. I think that’s starting to happen.”
A Brandeis graduate, who studied American Jewish history, Brown himself had trouble finding a job, so he started JewishJobs.com in 2001.
“I was looking for a job and at the time, there wasn’t any type of resource online, so I organized something,” he said.
Ten years later, incorporating suggestions from agencies and schools and congregations that use his service, JewishJobs has more than 61,500 subscribers.
He believes his is the only comprehensive jobs website for the Jewish sector.
“I compare it to a hydroelectric dam in the middle of a river,” he said, “you really only need to build one.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.