About one of five residents in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton live below the poverty level, new U.S. Census data shows, and the proportion of people on public assistance in the cities far exceeds state and national averages.
“Our poverty level has always been on the high side,” said Teri Ooms, director of the Joint Urban Studies Center, a Wilkes-Barre think tank. “While these numbers are alarming, I’m not surprised.”
The new data, reflecting statistical changes from 2005 through 2007, shows public assistance or food stamps went to 16 percent of Wilkes-Barre residents, 13.9 percent of Scrantonians and 13.8 percent of Hazleton citizens. The state and national averages were 8.5 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively.
In addition, poverty afflicts 21.2 percent of the people in Wilkes-Barre, 20.5 percent in Scranton and 18.6 percent in Hazleton, data shows. The state and national averages are 11.9 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively.
“Poverty levels are tied to wages and educations,” Ooms said, citing the region’s labor history of coal mining, textile spinning and other blue-collar work. “We’ve always had difficulty in maintaining a high percentage of highly educated individuals. It’s a little bit of a vicious circle, but it’s a long-standing problem.”
And, the problem is getting bigger, Nocilla said. Catholic Social Services, which feeds, clothes, shelters and counsels the needy, provided aid to 6,450 people in 2007, a 24 percent increase from 2006.
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