Poverty in Erie, Pennsylvania

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Source: http://cache.eb.com/eb/image?id=64696&rendTypeId=4

The city of Erie, Pennsylvania faces the problem of poverty more than most. There are many economic indicators that display the severity of this situation, and by examining these it becomes apparent that the situation in Erie is worse than many other parts of Pennsylvania as well as than that of the United States as a whole. Understanding the extent of this problem will make the comprehension of the implications all the more striking.
Percent Living below Poverty Line
A city of 100,393, Erie is located on Lake Erie in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania (2). Many different factors point to the high incidence of poverty in the area. First, the median household income in Erie in 2007 was $28,949, while in the rest of Pennsylvania the median income was $48,576 (1). This vast difference between income levels shows that Erie is much poorer than the rest of the state. Erie is not only poorer than the rest of the state, but it also has a higher percentage of residents below the poverty line than the rest of the nation. In Erie 17.7% of families are below the poverty line, as opposed to 9.8% of families in the United States (3). In terms of individuals, 24.3% of individuals in Erie are below the poverty line, whereas only 12.3% of individuals in the nation as a whole are below that level (3). This high incidence of poverty affects children in Erie more than children in the rest of the state with 40.5% of children living below the poverty line (4). In the state of Pennsylvania as a whole, only 15.9% of children live below the poverty line, almost 35% less than do in Erie (4).

Housing Units
The extent of the poverty can especially be seen in the housing situation. In Erie the median value of a home is $80,300, whereas in the rest of Pennsylvania the median value is $155,000 (1). The difference in home values shows that the quality of housing in the Erie area is much lower than that of the rest of the state. Poor quality housing is a symptom of the widespread poverty in the area. An indicator of substandard housing in an area is the percentage of owner-occupied housing units. Ownership of a home is indicative of financial stability. Renting often takes place when people cannot afford to own their own home. Therefore, when renting rates are high it points to dismal financial situations for people in the area. This rings true in Erie where only 56.7% of housing units are owner-occupied as compared to 67.3% in the United States as a whole (5). Renter-occupied housing units account for 43.3% of housing units in Erie, as opposed to 32.7% of housing units in the nation that are renter-occupied (5). A much higher percentage of people who rent spend more than 35% of their income on housing than do those who own their own homes. In Erie 39.6% of people who rent their homes spend more than 35% of their income on housing whereas 15.3% of those who own spend that much of their incomes (5). This statistic shows the importance, especially in Erie, of owning your own home. Those who own their own homes are much less likely to spend a high percentage of their income on housing expenses, and therefore are left with more money to improve their quality of life. In terms of quality of housing in Erie, it is important to note that only 4% of occupied housing units have been built since 1990, showing low growth in the housing sector and the lack of demand for new and more expensive homes (6). Also, pointing to the poor financial situation of residents in Erie, five percent of households in Erie do not have telephones, and 17% do not have a private car, truck, or van (6).

Erie’s history plays a large role in this situation. Erie is part of the geographic area known as the “rust belt.” This refers to the area surrounding the Great Lakes that grew as a prominent manufacturing area through the iron and steel industries. However, the collapse of the steel industry has caused the area to decay and deteriorate, earning it the nickname of “rust” (7).
Overall the collapse of the steel industry has led to the loss of jobs, the deterioration of the area, the widespread poverty, the poor living conditions, and the lack of development in the Erie area.

These photos show the poverty in Erie firsthand. Even the largest houses are
boarded up and run-down, typical of the "rust-belt" condition of much of the area.
The trash and squalor that can be seen in yards and streets contributes to the
"broken window theory" that will be discussed.

Proceed to next page: Implications of Poverty.

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