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More than half of Philadelphia residents struggle to pay for even the most basic of everyday necessities, including housing, food and transportation, according to a new report by United Way of Pennsylvania.
The report found that 55 percent of Philadelphians either experience poverty —defined by the federal government as approximately $24,000 for a family of four — or do not earn enough to maintain a basic cost of living.
But instead of just looking at poverty rates, which were established decades ago, researchers looked at a population called ALICE — an acronym meaning Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. In other words, the working poor.
Across the state, approximately 1.2 million Pennsylvanians fit this description. They work yet live with economic hardship, according to the report, which analyzed data from 67 counties and more than 5 million households.
“Millions of us go to work every day, but struggle to afford basic necessities for ourselves and our families,” Kristen Rotz, president of United Way of Pennsylvania, said in the report. “Some of us are just getting by — one broken furnace or medical emergency away from catastrophic consequences, because we live day to day and can’t save up for life’s unexpected events.”
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Researchers highlighted low wages compared to the rising cost of living as a major contributor to financial insecurity within households. Nearly 60 percent of jobs in Pennsylvania pay less than $20 an hour, which comes out to roughly $41,600 for one person before taxes. A family of four would need roughly $59,340 to make ends meet, according to the federal government’s Household Survival Budget estimates.
“More Pennsylvanians have jobs than ever before, but too many hardworking people are making poverty wages,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said. “It should be unacceptable to all of us when people are working harder and harder, but still struggling to pay for housing, food, childcare, transportation and other basic needs.”
Wolf has urged the Pennsylvania General Assembly to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour with a pathway to reach $15 by 2025. The state’s minimum wage stagnated more than 12 years ago under former Gov. Ed Rendell. A provision adopted at the time prohibited local municipalities from further making changes to their minimum wages. That power was given to the General Assembly.
As a result, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has not budged. Meanwhile, New Jersey’s minimum wage increased to $8.44 and Delaware’s to $8.25.
“Pennsylvania is behind other states – including all of our neighbors - in ensuring fair wages that keep up with the cost of living,” Wolf said Tuesday. “We must act so families stop falling behind. Our communities cannot afford to have so many working people struggling to keep food on the table and pay the rent. It’s time for the legislature to finally raise the wage.”
In Philadelphia, where economic insecurity is particularly acute, lawmakers have made some inroads to help secure stable wages. Philadelphia City Council passed a fair workweek bill in the spring to guarantee predictable schedules for some 130,000 hourly workers in the service and hospitality industries at least a quarter of whom work part time, according to the U.S. Census.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority is also helping to offset costs for families in the summer months by offering breakfast and lunch for children who depend on public schools for subsidized meals. The PHA Summer Food Program runs through Aug. 12 and is available to youth between the ages of 3 and 18. The program also provides 26 part-time jobs for PHA residents.