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Economy & Business

Sen. Casey Releases Report on Income Inequality in PA

More than 1.6 million Pennsylvanians, or about 1 in 8 state residents, live in poverty.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) believes he knows how to lower that number.

He released a report Tuesday that showed the income inequality among Pennsylvania counties in 2012.

It revealed that the commonwealth has a poverty level of 13.3 percent, which is below the national rate of 15 percent.

Philadelphia County had the highest rate of poverty at 26.2 percent while Bucks County had the lowest at 5.8 percent.

“The Great Recession we all lived through was not limited to urban areas or cities," Casey said. "It was a recession that hit across the board, so you have a lot of small towns where the unemployment rate has been very high, and frankly that’s one of the obvious drivers of poverty.”

Allegheny County’s poverty rate was 12.4 percent — a number that surprised Casey.

“There weren’t many people in the 1980s or even the 1990s who might have thought that Allegheny County would have both in a relative sense, lower unemployment than a lot of places in the state,” Casey said.

He said the rate in Allegheny County is still too high, but it provides for a “glimmer of hope” that it and the counties around it can diversify their economy even after the loss of steel jobs.

Casey said he doesn’t believe passing just one or two bills will change the poverty dynamic immediately, but he does think there are steps that can be taken to substantially help across the board — one being extending unemployment insurance.

“It’s unfortunate for those who were impacted by the Dec. 28 deadline on employment insurance, that has to get done,” Casey said. “And that of course provides a measure of security for those long-term unemployed.”

Another solution he sees is raising the minimum wage, which he said is an important way to lift up the ladder to the middle class and boost the economy by stimulating new investment.

“We know the last time minimum wage was passed was six years ago and it makes sense to increase it to $10.10 in three 95 cent increments,” Casey said.

According to a report by the Joint Economic Committee, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty.

Many opponents, including House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, say raising the minimum wage will cause businesses to cut jobs.

Legislation to do so was introduced in the Senate last March and was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Casey said he also thinks investing in early education would close the income gap.

“If you’re a child in a house that has an unemployed parent or caretaker in the house it’s much more likely that that child will experience poverty or may have a condition of persistent poverty that makes it more difficult for that child to learn and to grow,” Casey said.

In Philadelphia County, 19.6 percent of the population did not have a high school diploma as of 2012 -- 7.1 percent in Bucks County.