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Study: 1 in 4 Pennsylvania households struggle to make ends meet

One in four Pennsylvania households do not make enough money to meet the family’s basic needs, according to a study released on Tuesday that takes into account costs on a geographic level.

Three counties in southwestern Pennsylvania — Fayette, Indiana and Armstrong — exceed the state average when it comes to households in need, according to the report, “Overlooked and Undercounted 2012: Impact of the Great Recession as Measured by the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania.”

The report, sponsored by PathWays PA, a Philadelphia area organization that provides services for women, children and families, found that nearly 26 percent of Pennsylvania households have inadequate incomes that fall below a self-sufficiency standard.

The standard, which differs from the federal poverty level, is based on six major budget items for households. It takes into account the cost of housing, child care, food, health care, transportation and taxes when determining whether a household has enough income to be self-sufficient.

Michelle Faught, executive director of the Indiana County Community Action Agency, said she has seen a marked increase in the number of people who need help with food and fuel.

“When you see the cost of everything is going up, depending on the type of employment that you have and how much you’re making an hour, it costs a lot to run a household,” Faught said.

She said families often must choose how they will spend their limited resources on necessities.

“A lot of people are doing without to make it,” she said. “Not everyone is making a comfortable lifestyle. They’re making choices to make sure their bills are paid and their families are taken care of.”

The study found that nearly four out of five households below the standard have at least one worker and 73 percent of the households have a full-time worker.

“Put succinctly, it is largely inadequate wages, not inadequate work effort, which characterizes the great majority of households with incomes below the standard,” said Diana M. Pearce, director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington, who authored the study.

The study, which focuses on data from 2010, showed that the percentage of households under the self-sufficiency standard increased five percentage points since 2007. Meanwhile, those Pennsylvania families considered poor by the federal measure increased by only 2 percent.

Fayette, Armstrong and Indiana counties were among the nine statewide with more than 30 percent of households below the self-sufficiency standard. Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties all fell below the state average.

With nearly 35 percent of its households failing to meet basic needs, Fayette is second only to Philadelphia County.

“It’s a surprise to me that it’s that low,” said Sister Dorothy Dolan with Fayette-based Rendu Services, which provides assistance to low-income people. She said the organization’s food pantry has seen more and more people coming for help.

“Most of them are (coming) because they are out of work,” Dolan said.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or [email protected].


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