Despite limitations, population study will be released

NEW YORK — The much-heralded National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001 will likely be released by mid-April despite "limitations," those involved in the study said.

That prediction came after the United Jewish Communities, which bankrolled the $6 million study, received the first report of an internal review it is conducting into the NJPS after pulling the study last November because of missing data.

The UJC's sudden delay of the NJPS, on the eve of its annual General Assembly, stunned the Jewish community. It also stirred charges that the federation umbrella was hiding some troubling demographic trend, which the UJC has repeatedly denied.

Many were waiting to see how the latest study compared with the controversial 1990 NJPS, which counted 5.5 million Jews in the United States and said 52 percent of Jews who had married in the previous five years had married non-Jews.

The latest NJPS, billed as an even more comprehensive demographic picture, said initially that the population dropped 5 percent to 5.2 million, as women waited longer to have fewer children and the median age increased.

But after releasing those initial statistics, UJC delayed the release of the rest of the findings, which addressed a myriad of issues, including affiliation and identity.

Those involved with the study indicated at the time that the population figures themselves may need to be re-evaluated in light of the missing data.

The chancellor of McGill University, Bernard Shapiro, who led the internal investigation into what went wrong with the NJPS, cited "limitations and qualifications" with the survey.

"It was immediately clear that a range of serious issues of conception, of data collection, and of analysis were present in the project," Shapiro wrote in his report to the UJC's board of trustees meeting in Miami on Monday.

UJC spokeswoman Gail Hyman and others on the NJPS team said the review has found that these problems can be overcome.

NJPS senior research consultant Steven Cohen, a professor at Hebrew University's Melton Centre, said, "There are a lot of little issues and problems with the study, but each of these can be fixed or addressed or assessed."

Once Shapiro and a six-member team complete the review, Hyman said, the NJPS should be made public "in several months."

The Shapiro report largely blamed the NJPS research firm, Roper Audits & Surveys Worldwide, for losing the data and also revealed that a top NJPS researcher was removed from the project.

The review found several problems, including "small amounts" of missing data, "generally due to programming errors by RoperASW during the interview phase," Shapiro said.

NJPS researchers said the lost data concerned some of the 175,000 people the survey reached.

That missing data, which some said could change the overall Jewish population figure by 1 percent at most, is being recalculated.

Other problem areas concerned the response rate for the study, which one source said was as low as 17 percent. Shapiro said the team was comparing the rate to that of other studies.

The review team also delved into how many Jews who were called for the survey denied being Jews, Shapiro said, and the extent to which the survey may have undercounted geographic areas and some Jewish subgroups.

Shapiro said the review team was comparing the NJPS to other studies that have counted Jews in the West and such subgroups as Israelis, the fervently religious and immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco and a vocal critic of the NJPS regarding those areas, said the review shows his concerns have been heard.

"I think they are attempting to address the issues we raised," Tobin added. "Whether or not they do so remains to be seen."

In a demographic study released before the NJPS, Tobin found that there are 6.7 million Jews, and a total of 13.3 million Americans with some Jewish ties.

His study also found 1.68 million Jews in the Western states, while the NJPS found 1.14 million.