Despite aging, Bay Area Jews not growing more conservative

As the eminently quotable Winston Churchill once uttered between puffs on his stogie, “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”

Based on information in the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s latest population study, Churchill wouldn’t have thought much of the Bay Area’s older Jewish community.

Shuffling through the mountain of data he unearthed in the study, demographer Bruce Phillips has discovered some numbers that will give Democratic pollsters pause.

While a full 77 percent of Bay Area Jews 65 and older consider themselves Democrats, only 48 percent of Jews under 35 align themselves with the Democratic Party. (Among young Jews, 5 percent professed to be Greens, 9 percent were independent, 11 voted Republican and a whopping 21 percent expressed no preference.)

While Jews have long been a bread-and-butter constituency of the Democratic Party, a few decades in the future that may not be so, reports Phillips.

Yet Bay Area Jewish seniors simply don’t live up to the stereotype of growing more conservative with age. Two percent of the population even identified with the Socialist Party (no young or middle-aged Jews did so).

Local seniors also don’t correspond with the perception that old people pinch pennies out of necessity. Phillips’ statistics show the senior circuit is actually better off financially than young adults, and many live in homes purchased a generation ago that are now worth a small fortune.

There are slightly fewer Jews age 60 and over in the Bay Area as a percentage of the population than the national average (17 percent versus. 21 percent). Phillips chalks this up, however, to the huge influx of younger Jews the Bay Area has experienced in the last 20 years.

And, rest assured, in the next decade the number of Jewish seniors will skyrocket as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

“The number of people who will be seniors in the next 20, even 10 years, is larger than the current group. I don’t think that’s ever happened before,” said Phillips, a professor at Los Angeles’ University of Southern California and Hebrew Union College.

However, for elders rich or poor, liberal or conservative, the big issue is transportation, the survey showed. This is especially the case with seniors over 85. Phillips said the solution could be found in a combination of paratransit and better use of existing public transit.

This is also a problem the organized Jewish community would tackle, stressed Phyllis Cook, executive director of the JCF’s Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

It’s a particularly big problem in San Francisco, where only 37 percent of Jewish seniors are independent, according to the survey. That figure is about 20 percent lower than seniors in Sonoma, Marin and on the Peninsula. Phillips surmises that urban seniors are more reliant on public transportation.

And while there are more and better senior services available in San Francisco than elsewhere, the senior population struggles because they rely on the services so heavily. San Francisco elders, including a substantial immigrant population, might tend to have fewer financial resources than their counterparts in Sonoma, Marin on the Peninsula.

Whatever the case, there are problems that need to be solved. And, Phillips notes, the time frame for coming up with those solutions may be only 10 years or so away, when the boomer generation begins cashing its Social Security checks.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.