The poorest town in the USA is full of fundamentalists…

…but not the kind you probably think. The Orthodox Jewish settlement of Kiryas Joel in Upstate New York owns the dubious distinction of being America’s most impoverished, by a lot.

About 70 percent of the village’s 21,000 residents live in households whose income falls below the federal poverty threshold, according to the Census Bureau. Median family income ($17,929) and per capita income ($4,494) rank lower than any other comparable place in the country. Nearly half of the village’s households reported less than $15,000 in annual income.

About half of the residents receive food stamps, and one-third receive Medicaid benefits and rely on federal vouchers to help pay their housing costs.

Kiryas Joel’s unlikely ranking results largely from religious and cultural factors. Ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews predominate in the village; many of them moved there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning in the 1970s to accommodate a population that was growing geometrically.

Women marry young, remain in the village to raise their families and, according to religious strictures, do not use birth control.

So, a wonderful miasma of persistent religious dogma carried over from bygone millennia combined with the ultra-modern strategy of accepting handouts from the secular state because God wants you to have as many children as you can whether you can provide for them or not.

Most residents, raised as Yiddish speakers, do not speak much English. And most men devote themselves to Torah and Talmud studies rather than academic training — only 39 percent of the residents are high school graduates, and less than 5 percent have a bachelor’s degree. Several hundred adults study full time at religious institutions.

The concentration of poverty in Kiryas Joel, (pronounced KIR-yas Jo-EL) is not a deliberate strategy by the leaders of the Satmar sect, said Joel Oberlander, 30, a title examiner who lives in Williamsburg.

No, not a deliberate strategy, merely an inevitable outcome of an entire town of people devoting their lives to reading books. Well, maybe they’re as happy as they say. I wonder how happy they would be without the government checks.

Because the community typically votes as a bloc, it wields disproportionate political influence … A luxurious 60-bed postnatal maternal care center was built with $10 million in state and federal grants.

$10 million could buy a shitload of condoms and vasectomies.

What’s most striking about the article is its naked embracing of stereotypes. The author expresses surprise, and expects readers to do the same, that this is not some Baptist burg in the Deep South. And maybe readers do. The story misses the greater point that religious fundamentalism, be it of the sort generally associated with bumpkin-people or evinced by a group generally classified as high earners, leads to what can only be classified, at least statistically, as decadence. If the town were in Ass Munch County, Texas, this wouldn’t even be worth a paternalistic news nod.

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