Civic Institute tackles rising poverty in Erie

The City of Erie’s poverty rate is the highest it has been since the early 1990s, with 30 percent of adults living below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Among minors, the poverty rate jumps to 48 percent.

“While the rest of the country is recovering from the recession, Erie is still on hard economic times,” said Amy Eisert, director of the Mercyhurst University Civic Institute, which has been involved in several programs aimed at alleviating poverty over the past decade.

“It’s really hard to pinpoint one cause of the poverty we’re experiencing, but poverty can be caused by a variety of things, such as divorce, sickness or being laid off. These things have been happening, in addition to many businesses closing and young people leaving Erie and finding jobs elsewhere.”

The federal poverty guideline from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics for one person is $11,670 but a family of four’s rate is $23,850. Eisert said that even if a person or family is not within these guidelines, they are likely struggling if their income is within 125 percent of these numbers. So even if a single person is making more than $11,670, if their income is less than $14,587 they are likely struggling.

Income alone is not the only indicator of an impoverished area. Second Harvest food bank claims they aid approximately one in four Erie families who are struggling financially, according to sociology and social work professor Laura Lewis, Ph.D.

Lewis, who works with a group dedicated to combating Erie poverty called Erie Together, added that a lack of relatively high paying jobs drives the poverty rate, too.

Eisert said it is likely there is also a great deal of situational poverty going on in Erie. This happens when people get divorced, laid off, become sick, or experience any other type of situational circumstances that induces poverty.

“Poverty is associated with every negative social factor, such as drug use, crime, hunger, poor education and even poor health variables,” she said.