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Poverty and Progress

Poverty and Progress: The State of Being Poor in Pennsylvania and New Threats Ahead


Sustained economic gains and strong federal and state programs have led to welcome progress in the fight against poverty over the last several years.  Pennsylvania is finally seeing poverty rates approaching those from before the Great Recession.  This is good news.  But actions from Congress and the Trump administration threaten to weaken the very programs that contribute to this progress.

That’s among the findings of Poverty and Progress: The State of Being Poor in Pennsylvania and New Threats Ahead, a new report released by the Community Action Association of Pennsylvania and the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN).

Pennsylvania’s poverty rate was 12.9 percent in 2016, statistically unchanged from 2015, according to U.S. Census data released in September.  But it has declined from 2014, when it was 13.6 percent.  Nationally, the poverty rate declined to 14.0 percent in 2016, down from 14.7 percent in 2015 and from a high of 15.9 percent in 2012.  “Pennsylvania is making progress in the fight against poverty, but we can and must do better,” said Susan Moore, CAAP Chief Executive Officer.  “With job growth continuing and with strong federal and state programs for low-income Pennsylvanians, we are in an excellent position to reduce poverty more substantially.  There are 1.6 million Pennsylvanians who are counting on us to succeed.  Now is the time to invest in these programs and build on the positive momentum – rather than reduce funding.”

CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein said many Pennsylvanians have been lifted out of poverty by programs such as housing assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), low-income tax credits and assistance for people with disabilities.  “But now these very programs are on the chopping block,” she said. “Budget proposals pending in Congress and backed by Congressional leadership as well as the White House would cut billions of dollars from these very programs.  Such cuts would cause millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to suffer in poverty and near poverty.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • Some communities of color saw improvements in poverty rates.  26.4 percent of African Americans in Pennsylvania lived in poverty in 2016, down from 28.5 percent in 2015.  The poverty rate for Latinos in Pennsylvania was 30.0 percent in 2016, relatively the same as in 2015, but down from 33.2 percent in 2013.  However, these communities still remain disproportionately affected by poverty; the poverty rate among non-Hispanic whites was 9.2 percent.
  • Pennsylvania has made progress in lowering the child poverty rate, which stood at 18.5 percent in 2016.  This is basically unchanged from 2015, but it is down from the 2014 rate of 19.4 percent and from 19.7 percent in 2012.  Tragically, children remain more likely to be poor in the U.S. than any other age group.  As with adults, children of color experience poverty at much higher rates than their white peers.  In 2016, 11.8 percent of non-Hispanic white children in Pennsylvania lived in poverty, compared with 35.0 percent of African American children and 38.7 of Latino children.
  • Pennsylvania also has made progress in the number of people with health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and Pennsylvania’s decision to use federal dollars available to the state to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income adults.  In Pennsylvania, 5.6 percent of the population was uninsured in 2016, down from 9.7 percent in 2013.  Nationally, the uninsured rate in 2016 was 8.6 percent, down from 9.4 percent in 2015.

Poverty and Progress: The State of Being Poor in Pennsylvania and New Threats Ahead notes that over the years, anti-poverty programs have lifted two million Pennsylvanians, including 380,000 children, out of poverty between 2009 and 2012.  Examples: 200,000 were lifted out of poverty by Supplemental Security Income (SSI), 340,000 fewer were poor because of SNAP, and 130,000 escaped poverty because of housing subsidies.

But these are the very programs threatened in Congress and by the Trump administration.

Overall, the report notes, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget passed by the House would slash programs serving low- and moderate-income people by $2.9 trillion over a decade.  Even with the Affordable Care Act remaining in place, the House budget would slash Medicaid by $110 billion by adding a harmful work requirement for recipients.  It would cut SNAP by $150 billion and cut roughly $500 billion from other low-income federal support programs such as the school lunch program, SSI and low-income tax credits.  And it includes more than $90 billion in cuts to educational and social services programs and roughly $300 billion in cuts to other low-income programs, including rental assistance and job training. The Senate plan calls for $800 billion in cuts to domestic appropriations, threatening further cuts to housing, education, and substance abuse treatment, to name just a few, as well as substantial reductions to Medicaid, SNAP, assistance for people with disabilities, and other critical programs.

“These budgets show the vision of the House and Senate leadership – to drastically reduce critical programs for low-income families in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich and corporations,” Weinstein said.  “If our elected leaders really want to boost our economy and create jobs and a highly-skilled labor force, they would invest in programs that lift millions of children out of poverty, not cut them.  They would invest in programs that allow parents to find and keep good paying jobs, like training programs, scheduling and paid leave protections, and child care.  And they would require the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share, so we can increase these investments.”

Poverty and Progress: The State of Being Poor in Pennsylvania and New Threats Ahead is available by clicking the link at the top of this page. For more information, contact Steven Martinez at 717-233-1075 or