Census: Reading no longer poorest city in US

Pretzel City now ranked #6 behind Camden and cities in Ind., Mich.

Author: , Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published: Sep 20 2012 05:08:59 PM EDT   Updated On: Sep 20 2012 06:13:05 PM EDT
READING, Pa. -

New figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau show Reading is no longer the poorest city in the country.

It isn't exactly a cause for celebration because Reading is still in the top 10, and poverty is still a major issue in the city, said officials.

At age 21, Thomas Putt has no job. He can't afford food and has no place to stay. Like so many others in Reading, he is homeless.

"Sometimes I'll stay at a friend's house or a family's house, but a lot of times I'll sleep on the streets," said Putt, who has lived in the city his entire life.

Then, there is Christina Rabenold, who's looking for work to support her 2-year-old daughter.

"It's more complicated than anybody could possibly imagine," said Rabenold. "I didn't listen to my parents is what happened. I knew it all at 18, and it went down hill from there."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, things are improving in the city, at least slightly. Census figures show the poverty rate has dropped from 41.3% in 2010 to 40.1% in 2011. Reading has lost its dubious distinction as the poorest city last year to the sixth poorest.

"That number one designation brought us a lot of national attention, which gave opportunities for community organizations as they were writing grants to develop new programming," said Pat Giles, senior vice president of the United Way of Berks County.

The numbers released Thursday are just estimates, and there is a margin of error, said Giles.

Despite the improvement, poverty is still a challenge in Reading. The New Journey United Methodist Church Food Ministry on South 6th Street serves 70 families a week. That's up from this time last year.

"Not only are people hungry, but now the people serving the people are running low on cash," said Ann Marie Wallace, the soup and food kitchen manager.

The reality is Reading is still poor. Giles said we need a long-term solution to continue moving down the list.

"It's taken a long time to get to this position. It's gonna take a long time to truly get out of it," Giles said.

Camden, N.J., has taken over the top spot as the poorest city in the country. Its poverty rate is 42.5%.

Gary, Ind., lands second on the list and Bloomington, Ind., comes in third. Detroit and Flint, Mich., take the fourth and fifth spots, followed by Reading at number six.