New Castle News

March 24, 2012

John K. Manna: Census statistics reveal increase in number of poor

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — What have you done for me lately?

While politicians — particularly at the federal level — talk about the future, specifically the federal debt and the financial burden they may be leaving to their grandchildren, the present isn’t much to write home about.

Figures from the 2010 census show that poverty in Pennsylvania urban areas increased from 11.6 percent in 2007 to 13.4 percent in 2010.

The poverty rate in New Castle, which is higher than the state’s, went from 14.3 percent in 2007 to 16.6 percent in 2010. That computes to about 3,800 of the city’s 23,373 residents.

If it’s any consolation for New Castle residents, the city doesn’t have the highest rate in the state. That dubious distinction belongs to State College where the poverty rate was 20.9 percent.

Meadville ranked second at 20.7 percent, followed by Williamsport at 18 percent and Erie at 17.4 percent.

This phenomenon is not limited to Pennsylvania. The nation’s poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009.

The poverty line is defined as income of $22,314 a year for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual.

So, what is government doing about it? In Pennsylvania, the governor and the Legislature have cut spending to programs that not only benefit low-income people, but those with moderate incomes. Cuts have been made in spending for public schools, which is perhaps the most basic program we have to help lift people out of poverty.

The federal government isn’t really doing much better in responding to the problem.

At both the state and federal levels, legislators are more concerned with balancing the books, which I can’t discount shouldn’t be a concern. On the state level, Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican legislators essentially say the state can’t afford some programs.

Meeting with University of Pittsburgh students last week, Corbett said he doesn’t want to cut education spending, but doesn’t have the money.

The money can be had very easily and without much discomfort. An increase of one-tenth of 1 percent in the state income tax will generate millions of dollars and not have a great effect on the pocketbooks of moderate and high income people. But that’s unlikely to happen in today’s political environment.

Except for a few people, Washington tends to ignore the fact that poverty is increasing and whether anything should be done about it because that dreaded deficit needs to be dealt with.

Here’s another statistic to consider.

The poverty rate for children under age 18 in the United States increased to 22 percent in 2010. Those millions of children are also grandchildren.

If people are so concerned about the welfare of tomorrow’s grandchildren, shouldn’t they also be concerned about today’s?