Shaken to the Core

By Elizabeth Schuman
Senior Women’s Associate

As a mother, I’ve prepared my two children for the standard what-ifs: strangers, fire, accidents. But, I never thought to add earthquake preparedness into the mix. Who knew that the East Coast was targeted for a rumble in Aug. 2011, given that the last quake of any significance was in southwest Virginia in 1897?

Here amidst the “where were you?” zeitgeist days after the earthquake, I see connections between Mother Nature’s surprise punch and what has happened in all our lives within the last few years.

Who knew, in the heady earliest days of this century, that large banks would fail? Jobs would end? And the ever-expanding housing market collapse?  Who could have predicted the wildly agitating stock market, rising unemployment, and spiraling needs across social service agencies? Unfortunately, no amount of foresightedness—no extra batteries, jugs of water, or prognosticating forecasters—could have anticipated this economic disaster.

There’s a little we can do about the vagaries of nature. Fortunately, when it comes to the fallout from our economy, I think it’s a different story because of the work of THE ASSOCIATED.

Consider something I just learned: Each day, three new clients turn to career services within Jewish Community Services, a program of THE ASSOCIATED, for help with a job search. That’s three new families – children, siblings, parents – an entire mishpocha that finds itself somewhere it never expected to be. Tracey Paliath, director, economic services, sees the influx and trends.

“Up to 40 percent of these people are older than 50,” she says.  “They haven’t been in the job market for years. Suddenly, they find themselves looking for work.” The search can take as long as two years and yield a job paying as much as $20,000 less. And it’s not just 50 year olds or even newly minted college graduates. People in their 70s and 80s—grandparents—are also looking for work.  Often hand-in-hand with the job search is the need for financial support.

“Last year we gave out $1 million in financial assistance,” she says. It’s a last resort: To receive help, an individual must have less than $5,000 to his or her name, including retirement and college savings.  Yes, it’s mind-boggling. “The only way we can help at all is to ask our folks to cash out. Otherwise, we would need to give out millions – money that we do not have.”

Like victims of any natural disaster, most of her clients never imagined this situation. They aren’t alone. The recent Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study found that 43 percent of Jewish households have been negatively affected by the economy – dealing with a job loss, facing a salary reduction, or taking a lower paying job. The economic downturn has not shown signs of abating. And we’re left to pick up the pieces.

On Aug. 31, THE ASSOCIATED will kick off its Annual Campaign. Hundreds of volunteers will begin reaching out to donors and to each other to ask for a gift. Last year, our community gave more than $31 million dollars to support the 14 programs and agencies of THE ASSOCIATED, as well as the hundreds of other services here and abroad. More than a hand-out, THE ASSOCIATED is our safety net.

What will the year bring? Despite all the mothering wisdom and what-if conversations any of us can muster (and I’ve had the earthquake talk now), we can’t predict what’s ahead. There’s just one thing we know for sure: As a community, it is our responsibility to prepare as best we can—no matter what the forecast holds.



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Filed under Families, Social Services, Women

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