New Study Illuminates Hardship Facing Jewish Elderly Across the FSU

Hesed Center in Melitpol, Ukraine; courtesy Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies has released a new report that spotlights the need that persists today among large numbers of Jewish elderly in the countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU).

The study, “Hardship and Needs of Elderly Clients in Russia and Ukraine,” reviews the current economic, health, and social conditions of these impoverished elderly Jews, and it strives to compare their circumstances to their counterparts in western countries such as the US.

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most countries in this region are still hard-put to provide an adequate safety net for their aging adults. These are people who worked their whole lives – as university professors, engineers, and health professionals, etc. – only to see their pensions and savings diminish or disappear. Many now face unconscionable choices as they struggle to cover the cost of food, medicine and home heating.

The study reveals that in Russia and Ukraine, home to the largest numbers of Jews receiving services through the Hesed centers that JDC helped to develop and supports, household expenditures are more than twice the amount of reported pension income. That’s because costs for basic needs such as utilities and food, health services (including medicine) and home care have skyrocketed in recent years.

From 2005 to 2010, consumer costs in Ukraine nearly doubled, and they increased by 63% in Russia. (By comparison, consumer costs went up only 12% in the US during that same period.) Furthermore, the elderly in these countries shoulder a significantly larger portion of their health care expenses, paying for 30-40% of the costs out-of-pocket. All this, despite the fact that pension incomes are generally three to four times lower compared to social security income in the US.

The report’s focus on these bottom-line statistics underscores the “clear need for external support for basic health and social services for elderly Jews in the FSU.”

Many of these elderly also face housing issues, health challenges, and suffer from a lack of family. In their extreme financial straits, these impoverished Jews become completely reliant on support outside of the public social welfare framework.

A research brief that summarizes the full report can be found here.