Financial Self-Sufficiency

How easy is it for Berks County residents to support themselves and their families? The county’s median household income, living wage and percentage of working poor people compare well with Pennsylvania as a whole. However, other indicators may be causes for concern, including increases in the county’s poverty rate and the percentage of residents who receive federal food assistance. Within the county, poverty is highest by far in the Central region, where median income also declined the most since 2000.

Median household income is a gauge of the county’s overall economic health and the financial resources of its residents. In 2013-17, the median income in Berks was $59,600, slightly higher than the state and nation, but down 9% since 2000 (after inflation). This was a larger decrease than at the state and national levels.

There are significant disparities in median income by household type. For households headed by single women with children in Berks County, the median household income in 2013-17 was $24,400. This was roughly half that of single men with children, at $41,500. Married couples without children had a median income of $79,700, compared to those with children, at $90,400. Income decreased for all types of households in Berks since 2000, except married with children which held steady. 

Living wage measures the level of income that households require to pay for necessities, including housing and food, without assistance. In 2017, a family of four with two earners in Berks County would need to earn $15.70 per hour, or $65,300 a year. The living wage for a family of four with one earner was $24.10, or $50,100 a year, and for a single parent with two children, $28.36, or $59,000. This represents a slightly cheaper cost of living than Pennsylvania as a whole.

The percentage of people living in or near poverty is another measure of overall economic health, as well as the need for social supports to help families make ends meet. In 2013-17, Berks County’s poverty rate was 14%, similar to the state and nation. However, the county’s poverty rate rose 5 percentage points since 2000, a larger increase than at the state and national levels. The poverty rate was 30% in the Central region of the county, and ranged from 5% to 9% in other regions.

The percentage of working poor measures people who are working, but earning at or below the poverty line. In 2013-17, 3.4% of Berks County residents could be considered working poor, a percentage similar to the state, but smaller than at the national level.

The share of people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly called food stamps, indicates how many people in the county rely on government assistance to meet basic needs. In 2016, 15% of Berks County residents received SNAP benefits – slightly more than at the state and national levels. This represented a threefold increase since 2000.