Pittsburgh 5th poorest big city, census shows

Median household income $32,363

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Pittsburgh residents are making slightly more money than last year, but they still live in one of the poorest large cities in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

City residents have the fifth-lowest median household income among residents of larger cities around the country, at $32,363, according to a report the bureau released yesterday. Pittsburgh was seventh-lowest in the 2006 figures, at $31,779. Unlike some other poor cities, however, Pittsburgh contains affluent neighborhoods such as Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze, potentially skewing the results to make the city look wealthier than it truly is.

Cities ranking lower than Pittsburgh in yesterday's report, "Income, Earnings, and Poverty Data from the 2007 American Community Survey," were Detroit, Cleveland, Miami and Buffalo.

The $24,941 median household income in Youngstown made it the lowest-earning smaller city-- defined as 65,000 to 250,000 residents -- nationwide. It also placed last in 2006.

Household income in Pennsylvania rose in 2007 to $48,576, but still lagged behind the national median of $50,740. The state also saw small decreases in the uninsured and children in poverty, but advocates said too many Pennsylvanians are still at risk.

"With $4-a-gallon milk prices and history-making high gas prices, we need policy makers to focus on health and economic policies that create jobs, reduce poverty and provide access to health care for all to strengthen families," said the Rev. Neil Harrison, executive director of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania.

The share of Appalachians living in poverty last year increased by 114,000 to 13.3 million. Yet median incomes were up in all but one of 13 states that make up the region (including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia). The number of people in Appalachia who did not have health insurance last year decreased to 13.6 million from 13.7 million from the year before.

In Pennsylvania, the percentage of people living in poverty dropped from 12.1 percent in 2006 to 11.6 percent in 2007, or about 1.4 million people. About 16 percent of the state's children live in poverty.

The number of uninsured residents also has declined slightly, to 9.8 percent of the population, or about 1.2 million people.

More people have asked for food assistance from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank this year than during a comparable period in 2007, according to food bank spokeswoman Iris Valanti. Requests have increased in six of the 11 counties served by the food bank. In Armstrong, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Lawrence and Greene counties, more people need help putting meals on the table, according to Ms. Valanti, said.

In the first half of 2008, more than 5,000 new households -- people who had never before sought the group's help -- began receiving groceries from the food bank, Ms. Valanti said. Nearly 12,000 new families got help from the food bank last year, she said.

"While poverty figures don't necessarily signify a need for food assistance, it certainly seems the food bank will continue to be busy," Ms. Valanti said. "It's obvious, at least in 2007 and this part of 2008, that people are hurting."

Although Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh have seen some improvements, the Census Bureau's report is a reminder that more work needs to be done, said Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Sen. McCain's health care plan provides a $5,000 per family tax credit, and his economic plan proposes keeping taxes low to help create jobs and spur economic growth.

"Today's announcement reminds us that Americans are suffering in a struggling economy," Sen. McCain said in a statement, responding to the Census Bureau's report. "Too many of our neighbors are living in poverty, too many can't find a job, and too many are living without health insurance."

A spokeswoman for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama said the report underscores the need to carry out the Democrat's plans to overhaul health care and boost the economy. Sen. Obama has proposed providing universal access to health care modeled after the health plan used by members of Congress, and providing tax breaks to businesses that create jobs in the United States.

"Sen. Obama is fighting for economic opportunity for all Americans, while Sen. McCain is committed to continuing Bush policies that favor oil companies and tax breaks for the rich," said Allison Price, spokeswoman for Sen. Obama in Western Pennsylvania.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Aug. 30, 2008) More people have asked for food assistance from the Pittsburgh Food Bank this year than during a comparable period in 2007, according to food bank spokeswoman Iris Valanti. This story as originally published Aug. 27, 2008 incorrectly said requests for food help were down in Allegheny County.

Staff writer Tim McNulty contributed. Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at 412-263-1122 or aschaasmith@post-gazette.com .


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