Fayette County, Philly Have Poverty in Common

By Zito, Salena | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

Fayette County, Philly Have Poverty in Common


Zito, Salena, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


UNIONTOWN, Pa.

It is hard to imagine that this picturesque town, with its stately courthouse, charming narrow streets, cozy diners and cluttered antique shops, has anything in common with metropolitan Philadelphia, a bustling city of skyscrapers, nightlife and sports complexes on the opposite end of the state.

Yet rural Fayette County and urban Philadelphia County (the city shares the county's borders) have Pennsylvania's highest poverty rates, with Fayette nearing 20 percent and Philadelphia at a staggering 26 percent. In other words, one in five folks in Fayette lives in poverty; in Philly, more than one in four do.

These counties could not be more different: Fayette is overwhelmingly (92 percent) white and rural (less than 176 people per square mile); Philadelphia has a predominating mix of minorities (more than 44 percent black and 12 percent Latino, with 37 percent white) and urban density (more than 11,000 people per square mile).

"When poverty strikes, it doesn't see rural or urban black or rural white," said Burns Strider, a Democrat strategist who works with rural voters. "Folks have a tendency to associate the problem as an urban issue, but our rural communities are suffering too. You don't see it because it is not concentrated in the way it is in the city."

Fayette County and Philadelphia share some poverty correlations, according to Bert Rockman, a Purdue University political science professor -- namely, "lower educational achievement, the elimination of easily accessed jobs, the decline of key industries, and an intergenerational transfer of impoverishment."

Rockman said the United States has one of the lowest intergenerational levels of social mobility among developed economies.

"People tend to be stuck in place more here than in comparable economies," he said. "So, although Fayette County is mostly white and Philadelphia is majority black and also has significant Latino populations, they both share the same characteristics when it comes to poverty."

Avery Johnson, who runs one of the few Washington lobbying firms that only pushes Congress to help the poor, had personal experience with poverty as a black growing up in West Virginia's coal hills.

"I'd argue that the rural poor probably have a bigger disadvantage" than those in cities "because there are miles . …

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