Bethlehem Press

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Report: Many Pa. families struggling

Thursday, August 22, 2019 by DANIELLE DERRICKSON And NATE JASTRZEMSKI Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

More than 1.8 million families in Pennsylvania who don’t qualify for federal assistance still struggle to afford essentials like housing, food, child care and transportation, according to a recently released United Way of Pennsylvania report. This represents about 37 percent of households in the commonwealth.

Because despite earning above the federal poverty level, the United Way of Pennsylvania’s Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed – or ALICE – report says, those families’ incomes fall short of the basic cost of living.

“It’s not surprising,” Christine LeClair, co-facilitator of Carbon County’s homelessness task force, said of the report’s finding. “That’s the reality of it. These people are the working poor.” Regionally, the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley groups Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties together in the report.

The report

The federal poverty level is currently $26,000 for a family of four.

Of the 26,000 households in Carbon, 30 percent are categorized under ALICE; their income is above the poverty level but below the basic cost of living. That figure does not include the 13 percent of households living in poverty statewide.

Lehigh and Northampton counties have significantly higher populations, but marginally fewer households under ALICE. Including the 13 percent poverty level, 36 percent of Lehigh’s 140,000 households apply, while 39 percent of Northampton’s 114,000 housholds apply.

LeClair — who also acts as president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society — said families served by the organization are often employed. But come the end of the month, they find themselves on the phone with the society’s pantry, asking for food assistance or help with covering prescriptions or utility bills.

That leaves little to no financial room for saving for emergencies, LeClair noted. “We have so many individuals who are really living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

According to the report, a household would have to bring in $5,000 a month, on average, to support a family of four in Pennsylvania. That covers expenses like housing, child care, technology, health care, taxes and food.

To afford the basic household survival budget, that family would need an income of about $60,000 a year — not including savings for emergencies or future plans, like college.

A single adult would need to earn $1,700 a month, or $21,000 a year, to scrape by.

Fifty-six percent of households in Allentown fall under ALICE; 50 percent of households in Bethlehem qualify.

The report analyzes recent demographic changes to the population, availability of education, health care, jobs and other factors.

It describes seniors over 65 as highly vulnerable due largely to increasing healthcare costs, while millennials– those born from about 1981-96 – are weighed down with college debt and underemployment.

The ALICE report also warns of long-term economic consequences of a growing low-income population that spends little on new homes, cars, appliances and other expensive household staples.

Overall, American household wealth has not fully recovered from the Great Recession, and wealth and income disparities between lower-income and higher-income families continues to grow.

To see the complete report, visit uwp.org/ALICE