The Isaacs family recently moved from Brooklyn to Boca Raton, Florida. Three of their friends made the move in the last two years which was a major factor in their decision where to move to. Both Gabriel and Malky worked hard to make ends meet and to support their five children but making ends meet became increasingly difficult. The high cost of tuition, kosher food, and general lifestyle in New York made the move “a no-brainer,” said Malky.
When they did their research on where to move to, Boca Raton was one of the leading candidates because it seemed to have everything an Orthodox family like them would need. For Malky the warm weather was enough of an enticement. What’s more, Gabriel, a salaried employee, liked the idea that Florida was one of nine states that does not have a state income tax compared to the high New York State taxes that they paid. Some young Jewish families looking for states with no taxes and even tuition relief have settled on Houston and Dallas in Texas, and Henderson, Nevada. Some of the other states that have no state income taxes are Alaska, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wyoming.
While a move to another state to help ends meet is increasingly becoming popular in the Orthodox community, it is certainly not new for Americans in general. A recent study showed that Mississippi, for example is the cheapest state to live in the country. The state’s average cost of living is about 15% less than the national average. Mississippi’s living wage is only $48,537 and has the cheapest expenses for personal necessities anywhere in the country.
Orthodox families would have to factor in the higher cost of kosher food, which can be as much as 20% higher outside of the New York metro area. But still at the end of the day, a family of four can save as much as 15% – 25% in some of the lower cost of living states. The Isaacs’s also found out that some cities and even Jewish communities are giving financial incentives to move there. Baltimore, for example will pay $5,000 toward a down payment on a new home while in The Shoals in northwest Alabama, it’s as much as $10,000 in cash over the course of a year if one is accepted into its relocation program.
Income tax is a major factor for many families. Most Orthodox Jews just happen to live in some of the highest taxed states. For example, California is at 13.3%, New Jersey 10.75%, Minnesota 9.85%, and New York 8.82%. The rates are through the roof for such communities as Essex County (West Orange), NJ with 16.86%, Passaic County, NJ 14.62%, and Union County, NJ (Lakewood) 12.70%.
For many young Jewish couples, the burden they find hardest to carry is housing. The cost of housing in the major Jewish communities continues to rise and in some cases is not readily available. Buffalo, Las Vegas, and Memphis are amongst the lowest housing costs in the US. There are many developers who are planning to build housing for young Orthodox Jewish couples in Tampa, Florida, and the Catskills in Upstate New York. With the Orthodox community doubling in size every five years, there is every expectation that many new Orthodox communities will rise during that period. Writing in a local Jewish publication, a young couple renting a basement in Lakewood for $1,000 a month related how they were rebuffed every time they made an offer by someone who topped them making it impossible for their growing family to buy their own home.
It is generally believed that the living costs for an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle significantly raises the cost of living well beyond that of the general population in the US. For example, a family of four in the US can expect to spend around $7,000 a year for food while an Orthodox family of four might spend as much as $17,000 annually. With 52 Shabbosim, Yomim Tovim, larger families and significant entertainment, that number is quite understandable.
The cost of essential goods can vary from state to state. Studies show that some states have some of the cheapest grocery prices. Missouri, for example, has the lowest grocery prices in the Midwest. Shoppers in the state pay 7% less than the countrywide average for their retail food. Budget chains in the state range from big-box warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club to non-bulk supermarkets like Walmart, Aldi, and Save-A-Lot. These stores offer even more savings for a family living on a fixed budget.
Ordering on-line has been a major help for on Orthodox Jewish families living in even in the most remote areas. Shluchim for the Chabad movement use the on-line option on a regular basis. Amazon alone is said to have more than 15,000 kosher items and then there are so many more on-line kosher sites. This is a far cry from those that had to travel hundreds of miles to stock up on kosher items like glatt kosher meat or to travel to a farm to arrange for chalav Yisrael.
While in the past young families sought to live in or near established communities, the struggle to make ends meet has forced them to look elsewhere. The Isaacses, for examples, have both sets of parents living in the New York area. Yet, they found they had no choice but to search for a community where they could maintain their lifestyle at an affordable level. This is especially true for couples whose parents do not have the ability to help their children financially. For those that are pursuing learning in a Kollel, it is particularly difficult but because of the importance of learning in a Kollel of their choosing, the high cost of living communities like Lakewood are pursued.
The move to other communities has become an option for many professionals who find that their skill set will open the doors in the job market for them in other communities. The Solomons moved to a community with several large hospitals because Cindy was a registered nurse and Chaim a doctor. Finding a job was not very difficult for them. As a result, they found that for the first time they were actually able to save. The lower cost of living and no-state income taxes was a major factor.
Whereas in the past families that could not make ends meet had to scrounge just to survive, today a move to another community is a real alternative. Many families were able to climb out of debt because they managed to bring down the cost of living while at the same time helping many new communities flourish. The movement to relocate to smaller communities may in the end be a win-win situation as young couples are better able to cope, and new communities are built.