Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Poverty in Bucks County

While I have been trying to keep up with the news on the latest poverty data, today was my first opportunity to work with it.  As I began to look at the changes from 2009 to 2010, I came across a surprising discovery: the highest percentage point increase in poverty in the five county area was not in Philadelphia - it was in Bucks County.

In 2010, Bucks County had a 2.7 percentage point increase in the number of people living below the Federal Poverty Level.  In other words, over 16,000 more people were living below poverty in the county in 2010 compared to 2009.  Looking further at the data, while both men and women experienced more poverty in 2010, a larger percentage of women found themselves in poverty last year than men.  In 2009, 1.9% of all Bucks County women lived below the poverty level, compared to 1.6% of men.  In 2010, 3.5% of all Bucks County women lived below the poverty level, compared to 2.7% of men.
In just a quick reading of the numbers, the increased poverty in Bucks County seems to correlate with educational attainment.  Men and women in Bucks county have similar education patterns, with most ending their education with a high school diploma or a college/postgraduate degree.  But in 2009, the number of people in poverty did not follow the same trend.  Approximately the same number of men lived in poverty in Bucks County in each educational attainment category in 2009, while poverty among women followed an expected trend.  There were higher numbers of women with only a high school diploma living in poverty, presumably because a large percentage of women ended their education with a high school diploma and because many "good jobs" require additional training.  Following the increase in poverty at the high school level, fewer women with higher education (some college or a degree) lived below the Federal Poverty Level. In 2010, however, the biggest increase for men and women living in poverty was for those who ended their education at high school.

One explanation for the increased poverty in Bucks County is the loss of good, quality jobs for men and women with a high school diploma or GED between 2009 and 2010.  That would explain why both men and women saw the highest increases in poverty at that level of educational attainment.  However, since many women were living below poverty with a high school diploma before 2010, it also appears that many of the good jobs available in that educational bracket were considered "men's work,"  since there is often occupational segregation among workplaces (with differences in pay as well).

It also seems that access to educational training and skills would benefit both men and women in Bucks County, since individuals with higher skill levels are less likely to live in poverty.  As Congress continues to work with the Jobs Bill, now would be a great time to talk to them about the need for education and training as well.

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