Reading tops Census list of cities with most living in poverty

Reading tops list of 600 poverty-stricken cities in US

READING, Pa. (Originally posted at 12:41 PM) - The U.S. Census indicates Reading is at the top of a not so flattering list.

Out of roughly 600 cities across the country, Reading ranks number one when it comes to poverty. 

Some of the victims of Reading's poverty crisis end up at Opportunity House in Reading. The non-profit provides emergency shelter and child care, along with a host of other services.

"We're certainly seeing an increase in the number of people who are homeless for the first time," said Modesto Fiume, president of Opportunity House.

Lehigh Valley cities also are not far behind Reading on the poverty list. Allentown comes in number 64; Bethlehem is ranked 177th. 

Reading Mayor Tom McMahon said the root of the problem is the city's low graduation rate.

"It's not a lot you can do if you don't have good education, and then you can't recruit jobs," said McMahon, who added that the a high number of dropouts pushes companies away from the city.

"When we try to recruit companies into the city, first thing they'll look for is demographics online. What is your college graduation rate? And when they see they're pretty low, they have a tendency to go someplace else," said McMahon. 

Aggravating the poverty problem is a lack of jobs. Large companies like Dana and Hershey have left Reading. Baldwin Hardware is also on the way out.

"As those companies have gone away, those are major companies with good-paying jobs, and they haven't been replaced. It's not easy to replace those kinds of companies," said McMahon.

Overall, rates for Pennsylvania and New Jersey are 13.4 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively.

The poverty rate for the country sits at 15.3 percent.

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