For Children In Poverty, Everyday Living Is Uncertain

Jul 10, 2019

On today’s program: The Post-Gazette explores the ways child poverty affects Western Pennsylvania communities; how Anthrocon and its larger furry community can help people with autism; and the latest from Harrisburg over plans to pay for new, more secure voting machines in time for 2020. 

Child poverty can crack the foundation of an entire community
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The year-long Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series “Growing Up Through The Cracks” is sharing stories from families and communities hit hard by child poverty.

According to the Anne E. Casey Foundation, about 17% of children in Pennsylvania live in households below the federal poverty line. That figure is close to the national average, but in working on the project, journalists Rich Lord, Kate Giammarise and Michael Santiago say they learned acutely the effect it has on Pittsburgh-area homes. 

“There are areas where half or more, sometimes up to 60 or 65% of the kids are living in poverty, and if you talk to the experts, they’ll tell you that that brings a whole host of problems—you know, abandoned houses, messed up infrastructure, crime, lack of educational attainment,” Lord says. “And even if your family in particular is not in poverty, your child is going to be affected by it and surrounded by it.”

So far, they’ve looked into Rankin, Wilmerding, North Braddock, Duquesne, Fayette County and McKeesport. Santiago says the work challenges how people perceive those who are financially struggling.

“People have a sense of what poverty looks like from the images of the past, through the FSA program in the early 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, and they’re not realizing that people who live in poverty look like everybody else,” he says. “They think that people who live in poverty should look a certain way, and that’s not necessarily the case.”

Their most recent story focuses on a mother, Rebecca Brydges, who moved her family from McKeesport to Glassport to find opportunity.

“She was very open to sharing her story and opening up about her family situation,” Giammarise says. “It’s sort of a unique paradox, because she works in a childcare field, and childcare is very expensive, but people working in that field typically do not make a lot of money.”

Fursuiting is helping autistic people socialize 
(17:51 — 22:33)

Duquesne University psychiatric anthropologist Elizabeth Fein has been researching how the furry community is affected by autism for the past four years. She tells 90.5 WESA's Sarah Boden that interacting through furry costumes and characters can help take some of the pressure of social interactions or too much stimulus off of people on the spectrum.

How PA and Allegheny County are preparing to vote
(22:33 — 38:59)

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a $90 million bond issue to help Pennsylvania counties pay for new, more secure voting machines, just one day after vetoing a separate bill that promised to do the same thing. Wolf says he vetoed the measure because it included a provision inserted by Republican leaders to end straight-party ticket voting options, but it’s not clear whether this bond order is within the governor’s executive authority.

“Pennsylvania is one of only nine states that allow straight-party voting, and this became sort of a partisan division,” investigative reporter Mike Wereschagin of The Caucus explains. “Republicans say that they want this provision in there because it will lead to a more engaged citizenry. Democrats see this as sort of a way to depress Democratic turnout, and they worry that this is going to have a real effect on turnout overall.”

Pennsylvania has promised to pay up to 60% of the costs, leaving individual counties to foot the rest. Allegheny County hosted equipment demos last month, but officials still need to gather public input, choose a vendor and order the equipment. Then they'll need to train poll workers for 1,300 polling places county-wide.

“There will be a significant learning curve,” Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald says. “That’s a process that isn’t always easy. It’ll be a change, and anytime there’s a change, there’s always some hiccups that occur.”

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.