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Matt Williams, a researcher at Stanford University, recently posted a quick and dirty analysis of the most- and least-affordable Jewish communities in the United States. Using real estate and tuition costs, and limiting the choices to those cities with certain Jewish resources, he laid out these top and bottom 10:

Most Affordable Least Affordable
10. Pittsburgh, PA 10. Washington, DC
  9. Baltimore, MD   9. Englewood, NJ
  8. St. Louis, MO   8. Boston, MA
  7. Memphis, TN   7. Beverlywood, CA
  6. Kansas City, MO   6. Great Neck, NY
  5. Columbus, OH   5. Lake View, Chicago, IL
  4. Milwaukee, WI   4. Teaneck, NJ
  3. Buffalo, NY   3. San Francisco, CA
  2. Cleveland, OH   2. Manhattan, NY
  1. Detroit, MI   1. Palo Alto, CA


There are many things one could write about the list, many of which have already been covered in the comments to Williams’ own post. Williams himself acknowledged that “this is a rough back of the napkin calculation.”

When we posted this article to the PEJE  Facebook feed, we had more eyeballs than any other posting ever. Why? If I’m living in Pittsburgh, why would I care about whether Baltimore is more “affordable”? (Other than to bristle at Baltimore for beating my fair former city at something.)

So maybe that’s a bad example. But how about Detroit vs. Palo Alto? Or even Palo Alto vs. Manhattan?

While “all politics is local,” it turns out that affordability may not be.

Another interesting byproduct of Williams’ analysis is how the responses drifted from financial factors to… less objective criteria.

“[M]ore vibrant Orthodox community…”

“[G]reat public schools…”

“Wonderful resources at the JCC where kids of one religious “flavor” could mix in activities with those from others and broaden their understanding of community…”

“[S]uper friendly communities…”

This expanded discussion reflects PEJE’s research into affordability, particularly with regard to day schools. It started with our meta-analysis of the PEJE/Measuring Success Parent Survey data, and its emphasis on perception of quality as the strongest basis for word-of-mouth advocacy (which is the leading driver of enrollment, i.e. parents choosing to enroll their children in day school).

What we’re doing now with that research is precisely targeting that nerve Williams hit with his post. We’ve created an “affordability index” that incorporates financial and parent perception data to quantitatively measure a community’s relative affordability. It’s a simple formula:

Gross Tuition  X  Likelihood to Recommend Score
_________________________________________                   =          Affordability Index

Average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

The Index represents the percentage of AGI families believe your school’s education is worth. So if the tuition you charge (e.g., $15,000) is 15% of families’ average AGI ($15,000, on $100,000 AGI), and your Likelihood to Recommend Score is 50%, that indicates that your families on the whole value your tuition at 7.5% of their AGI, or $7,500. Built into that calculation are community-specific data such as average salaries, market penetration statistics, and school budgetary information. And while we’ve hit a typical analytical problem—a lack of quality data (FILL OUT YOUR JDATA FORMS, PEOPLE!)—what we have seen allows us to help a community more accurately target their unique affordability challenges, and potentially move up or down on the kind of list Williams compiled.

Maybe it’s not enough. As seen above, several different affordability factors were cited by commenters on Williams’ post; factors that many people would not cite as being part of a general affordability calculation. The Affordability Index is fairly comprehensive, but it can always be more accurate.

So tell us—what factors do you think should be input into a community’s affordability rating? How would you incorporate the multitude of Jewish experiences, many of which (like day school, or overnight camp) come with a hefty price tag?

Help us nail down the slippery definition of affordability, and we can finally determine whether your community is the “most affordable.” Unless you’re living in Pittsburgh, in which case you may already know it.