Jews desperate for jobs turning to Buenos Aires agency

The Ariel Job Center in Buenos Aires does much of the same things as the Jewish Vocational Service in San Francisco, except for this "only in Argentina" touch: It has offered training on how to become a soccer referee — a highly viable job.

"Every weekend there are over 200 soccer matches," said Alejandra Goldschmidt, head of employment programs for the Buenos Aires-based job center.

While her colleagues at JVS, where Goldschmidt gave a talk June 4, got a chuckle out of that, much of what else she had to say was far more sobering.

Though the election of a new president has brought some hope to Argentines, she said, "people feel paralyzed" by the dire economic situation.

During her visit to the United States, Goldschmidt discussed how Argentina's Jewish community is faring since her country's economic crisis began in December 2001, comparing the situation to the economic downturn in the United States. Apparently, Argentina's crisis is far worse.

"The economic situation of Argentina makes our own situation pale by comparison," said Abby Snay, executive director of JVS, in introducing the speaker. "There is three times the level of unemployment."

The Ariel Job Center, which serves the Jewish community of Argentina exclusively, was founded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in 2001, several months before the rioting broke out in December of that year.

"It was a good moment to start," said Goldschmidt. "The JDC was aware of the situation before the big crisis." The JDC provides 80 percent of the center's funding.

Goldschmidt said Argentina has practically no social welfare system, and statistics about unemployment are deliberately skewed. While the official government figure is that 18.7 percent of the populace is currently unemployed, the number reflects the fact that a person working one hour a week at an odd job is not considered unemployed, she said.

Also, the head of household receives a government subsidy of about $50 a month and is not considered unemployed, she said. In fact, "the real reason this subsidy exists is only to decrease the unemployment statistics."

Even among those who are working, she said, many still fall beneath the poverty line.

While the center offers career counseling, most of the people using the services are not first-time job seekers. They are highly professional, said Goldschmidt; many have advanced degrees, and many have worked for multinational corporations.

The center is spotless and kept up to date with the latest technology, she said. Otherwise, "if it looks like a welfare place, professional people won't want to go there."

For Jews, many of them used to a middle-class lifestyle, the downturn hits particularly hard. "They have a nice home, a nice car and nice clothes," she said, "and it is difficult for them to change their standard of living."

So far, the center has placed more than 500 people in jobs, retrained 4,405 people, and put 5,563 people in its database.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."