Greater Reading, Pennsylvania
The United States Census Bureau recently released its American Community Survey for 2010 which, among many other things, estimates poverty rates in various locations throughout the country. (Here’s an excellent tool to extract poverty and other income data.)
As discussed in yesterday’s post, The New York Times prominently reported that Reading, Pennsylvania is the current American capital of poverty. While the extreme levels in Reading deserve great attention, let’s expand the geographic scope just a bit and look at other American cities within, say, a 150 mile radius. Call it Greater Reading.
Before we do though, we should note that the US Census Bureau defines poverty based on family size as follows:
1 Person under 65: $11,344
2 Person under 65: $14,676
3 Person: $17,374
4 Person: $22,314
These are dismal income levels, especially given that the big cities in Greater Reading have very high costs of living.
So, beginning our geographic journey outside of Reading proper, let’s travel just 59 miles southeast and find the birthplace of America and Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia. While its downtown area evokes memories of a brighter past, more than one in four residents, 27%, live in poverty. Just across the Delaware River we find Camden, New Jersey and 36.3% in poverty; a few miles further north is the Garden State’s capital, Trenton, and it’s at 29.2%. Drive a half hour south of Philadelphia on I-95 and behold Wilmington, Delaware, 27.6%.
Further south, just 106 miles from Reading, is Baltimore, Maryland with 25.6% enjoying poverty lifestyles. And then of course, we have our nation’s political capital, Washington D.C., only 140 short convenient miles from the poverty capital. The ratio of desperation encircling our hallowed halls of democracy: 19.2%.
Drive east of Reading and in 117 miles you’ll run into Newark, the largest city in New Jersey. Poverty rate: 30.2%. And then just a few minutes further east we have, in all its grandeur, the global capital of capitalism itself, New York City, just 128 miles from Reading. It’s poverty rate is about one in five or 20.1%; in the Bronx it’s 30.2%.
Greater Reading encompasses the northeast corridor from Washington to New York, a region that’s the political, cultural, and financial heart of the United States. Yet millions live in poverty and many more just ever so slightly above. All of the great cities in Greater Reading are little more than temples to both inequality and the ugly class nature of capitalism. How is it possible to know this and not conclude that the United States is a morally bankrupt and decayed society in desperate need of a revolution?