Fayette County, Philly have poverty in common
It is hard to imagine that this picturesque town, with its stately courthouse, charming narrow streets, cozy diners and cluttered antique shops, has anything in common with metropolitan Philadelphia, a bustling city of skyscrapers, nightlife and sports complexes on the opposite end of the state.
Yet rural Fayette County and urban Philadelphia County (the city shares the county's borders) have Pennsylvania's highest poverty rates, with Fayette nearing 20 percent and Philadelphia at a staggering 26 percent. In other words, one in five folks in Fayette lives in poverty; in Philly, more than one in four do.
These counties could not be more different: Fayette is overwhelmingly (92 percent) white and rural (less than 176 people per square mile); Philadelphia has a predominating mix of minorities (more than 44 percent black and 12 percent Latino, with 37 percent white) and urban density (more than 11,000 people per square mile).
“When poverty strikes, it doesn't see rural or urban black or rural white,” said Burns Strider, a Democrat strategist who works with rural voters. “Folks have a tendency to associate the problem as an urban issue, but our rural communities are suffering too. You don't see it because it is not concentrated in the way it is in the city.”
Fayette County and Philadelphia share some poverty correlations, according to Bert Rockman, a Purdue University political science professor — namely, “lower educational achievement, the elimination of easily accessed jobs, the decline of key industries, and an intergenerational transfer of impoverishment.”
Rockman said the United States has one of the lowest intergenerational levels of social mobility among developed economies.
“People tend to be stuck in place more here than in comparable economies,” he said. “So, although Fayette County is mostly white and Philadelphia is majority black and also has significant Latino populations, they both share the same characteristics when it comes to poverty.”
Avery Johnson, who runs one of the few Washington lobbying firms that only pushes Congress to help the poor, had personal experience with poverty as a black growing up in West Virginia's coal hills.
“I'd argue that the rural poor probably have a bigger disadvantage” than those in cities “because there are miles … for them to get to services that can help them,” Johnson said.
His firm, Advocates for the Other America, is a rarity on Capitol Hill because the poor are politically invisible, he said. “There are other firms who push for the poor as part of many things they do. This is all we do.”
It has been tough to push Congress to do something, he added, because “the poor don't vote, black or white, so they don't have clout. They don't force Washington to pay attention.”
“Poverty impacts every single aspect of your life in the ghetto,” said Elijah Anderson, a Yale University social sciences professor and author of “Code of the Street,” a sometimes heartbreaking study that outlined four years of research into a poor black community of inner-city Philadelphia.
Anderson was very disappointed that, aside from a speech by Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, any mention of poverty was conspicuously absent during the 2012 presidential campaign and at the Democratic National Convention.
“It was terrible,” he said. “You have people who are dislocated, the jobs have left, and there is no sense of urgency in Congress and the White House.”
Strider, the Democrat strategist, called the entire situation “tragic.”
“So often we get on our patriotic pedestal and boast about how we invest our monies in other countries,” he said. “It is time to invest at home. We have to have the political fortitude to invest where there is no political strength, in poor neighborhoods and communities.”
Purdue's Rockman said that, while underlying similarities exist between poverty problems in Fayette County and in Philadelphia, race remains an obstacle to seeing them that way. “The bottom line is that politicians need to address the poverty problem as a unit,” he said.
Past efforts to do so, such as President Lyndon Johnson's “Great Society” programs, were not terribly successful. And today's political system has turned far more out of tune with the problems of the poor and the near-poor than ever before.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Lovejoy says individual play is problematic
- Greensburg high school roundup: No. 4 Hempfield baseball routs Norwin
- Western Pa. May markets, plant sellers ready to spring into action
- NFL Draft preview: Safety crop offers no sure-fire stars
- Lexus sport coupe has youthful appeal, power
- Mars’ Rinaman sprints to 2 gold medals at host invitational
- Armenia commemorates massacre
- Terrorists planned attack on Vatican, officials say
- Magma chamber spied under Yellowstone volcano
- First Amendment experts decry Plum authorities’ warning to students
- Ross 5K event, fun run to promote fitness for children