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Poverty worse in Pa. than reported: study

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By Bill Zlatos
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One in five Pennsylvania households do not make enough money to meet basic needs even though many live above the federal poverty level, according to a study released Monday.

"It's not a lack of work effort that's a problem," Diana M. Pearce, director of the Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington, said during a telephone news conference. "It's the lack of adequate wages."

Pearce is author of "Overlooked and Undercounted: Struggling to Make Ends Meet in Pennsylvania," a study conducted in cooperation with the nonprofit PathWays PA for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The report found that twice as many of the state's 3.4 million households are having a hard time making ends meet compared to data based on the federal standard for poverty. Just one in 10 households in the state lives in poverty, according to the federal standard.

That standard, however, calculates poverty based on a food budget. In contrast, PathWays PA examines needs such as the cost of food, housing, child care and health care in each county.

According to the study, Fayette County has the highest rate of households in distress in the state, with 35.4 percent. Allegheny County, with 20.3 percent, is just below the state average of 20.8 percent of households lacking enough money to meet basic needs.

The data come as no surprise to David Madison, administrator of Children & Youth Services in Fayette County. Between 2001 and 2006, he said, the rate of children under the age of 18 who live in poverty has increased from 24 percent to 33.5 percent.

"It's the working poor," he said.

Because of the recession, he said his office has seen a spike in the number of children who are abused or neglected. In the first three months of the year, his office has received 360 such reports; during the same period last year, 230.

The study shows about 85 percent of Pennsylvania households lacking enough money have at least one worker. In more than half of these households, there is at least one full-time worker.

"Here at Catholic Charities, we're certainly seeing an increase in people who are in need or seeking assistance," said Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

She said her agency saw a 40-percent increase in clients last November over the previous year. Catholic Charities averages 100 phone calls a day just in Allegheny County.

"We are attributing this to the economy," Rauscher said.

Robert Garraty, executive director of the Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board, said he hopes the 22 local investment boards adopt the PathWays standard so that more laid-off workers are eligible for retraining.

Additional Information:


The rate of households that lack enough money to make ends meet in local counties:

Armstrong: 28.4%

Allegheny: 20.3%

Beaver: 21%

Butler: 14.9%

Fayette: 35.4%

Greene: 19.6%

Washington: 14.8%

Westmoreland: 16.1%

State : 20.8%

Source: PathWays PA

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