In Lancaster City, about 30 percent of residents are living in poverty, which is several percentage points higher than in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.
And, on the south side of the city — south of King Street — the poverty rate for residents is around 40 percent, which is the same as in Detroit.
Although Lancaster City has fewer residents than those cities, the effects of poverty are the same regardless of population size, Dan Jurman said.
Jurman, CEO of Community Action Program of Lancaster County, serves as chairman of a commission that city officials tasked with improving poverty rates, and it’s looking to the private sector to help.
“What could reduce poverty in Lancaster County?” Jurman said. “It would be connecting those people with one really good job.”
The federal poverty rate is based on an income of $24,300 for a family of four. In Lancaster County the cost of living for a married couple with just one child is $57,956, according to the website careertrends.com.
“What could reduce poverty in Lancaster County? It would be connecting those people with one really good job.”
– Dan Jurman, CEO, Community Action Program
The poverty commission found in conversations with city residents that most people living in poverty are working at least one job, but do not have benefits or make enough to cover the cost of living.
At the same time, many businesses in the county say they struggle with finding qualified, local people, according to Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce.
The job of the poverty commission is to figure out a way to train people for jobs that local companies need to fill.
The commission is working with employers so that it knows what jobs are available today, and what jobs will be available three years from now, so it’s “not training somebody for something that isn’t going to be around when they graduate,” Jurman said.
Finding a place
Lancaster residents at every income level, meanwhile, face a shortage of rental housing, according to an analysis conducted by the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership.
The analysis found that 75 percent of all housing building permits over the past four years were for single-family homes, while 21 percent were for multifamily rentals.
Local companies such as the High Companies are looking into building more multifamily housing in the county. High is planning a $400 million, 82-unit upscale apartment building on Pitney Road, near its headquarters in East Lampeter Township.
The county’s challenges also include balancing the demands of an increasing population with preserving farmland.
Lancaster’s population reached 534,130 in 2015, according to a study by the Lancaster County Planning Commission.
The commission is in the process of updating Lancaster County’s comprehensive plan, which is a road map for the county’s future.
The first step was studying the county’s changing landscape in terms of people, jobs, housing, infrastructure and transportation. The completed study is called Places2040, and it contains a wealth of information about Lancaster.
For instance, the county is consuming more land than it should. In other words, it is building more homes than other counties in the region, with a housing unit growth of 16.4 percent between 2000 and 2015. Of that construction, 80 percent represented single-family homes, according to the study.
The next step following Places2040 is to develop a plan of action.