From The Editors

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Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 at 3:25 AM

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war. That war was on poverty because nearly one out of every five Americans were living in poverty. The speech he gave led Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act and the onward we waged the war.

Fifty years later, that war is still being fought, and Erie County is one of those battlegrounds.

In her feature in this issue, Rebecca Styn explores the topic of poverty and how it affects Erie, comparing the the City to the County, the region to the state, and the state to the country. And while the number of those living under the poverty line decreased from 2011 to 2012, over 15 percent of Erie County residents still live there. That number jumps to over 25 percent when we consider the city, and one out of every ten Erie City residents live in “extremely poor or impoverished neighborhoods,” Rebecca reports.

But what is the true face of poverty? When we hear the term “poverty,” we may conjure up certain images. The man in the tattered jacket seeking refuge from the cold in a bus stop. The woman pushing a shopping cart filled with her only belongings as she looks for somewhere to spend the night. The couple standing by the side of the road holding a cardboard sign reading “Any bit will help…”

This is the face of poverty, but it’s not the whole picture. Take for instance the “asset poor.” As Rebecca notes, a household is asset poor if it has “insufficient net worth to support itself at the federal poverty level for three months in absence of income.” For a family of three, that number is $4,632, and in other words, asset poor households — if met with a sudden economic crisis — would not be able to provide for their basic needs.

They — like many — are surviving paycheck to paycheck, living in fear that if they lost their income, they would lose the life they know.

The New York Times reported something else unnerving: 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will live at least one year below the poverty line.

While each of us may not experience poverty firsthand, the likelihood is good that we know someone who is. After reading Rebecca’s feature, you’ll also come to know some of the initiatives and programs at work in Erie that are fighting that battle against poverty.

And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Let’s face it: Poverty is a complex issue, which may be why we’re slow to talk about it. How does crime factor in? Does poverty beget crime or crime beget poverty? Is it both?

How does the changing landscape of our region’s industry affect this? Are other sectors creating those jobs lost at GE? Is hotel construction on our Bayfront a viable short-term or long-term answer? Should we bank on tourism?

The complexity of the question of how do we win the war against poverty isn’t simple, and five decades later, history is still teaching us that, and we all still have much to learn. Which is why you’ll see continued coverage of the topic here at the Reader, because if we’re ever going to win the War on Poverty, it’s going to take all of us working together.

Erie Reader: Vol. 7, No. 19
Now Available — Pick It Up Today


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