Pa. food banks see record levels of need

Hunger remains a major problem in Pennsylvania. Even though the unemployment rate is low, many question if Pennsylvania jobs are paying enough for people to afford food.

“Fairly average families who used to donate to us, or volunteer, are now on the other side of the pantry line coming for help,” Central Pennsylvania Food Bank Executive Director Joe Arthur said.

That is the unfortunate reality of today’s world. Arthur says there’s a misconception about the state’s low unemployment rate. It does not mean everyone’s earning enough to support their families and they’ve noticed it firsthand.

“Really over the last several years, even though we have seen improvement in the unemployment rate and the markets are doing great, the issue is the working poor,” Arthur said.

The “working poor” are those who are employed but earn minimal wages to live.

“It’s how much do your jobs pay you. You can have employment but not adequate pay to do the things you need to do,” said Margaret Morris of Lower Swatara Township.

Therein lies the problem. The state’s unemployment rate is 5.7 percent. In summer, it hit a five-year low at 5.6 percent. That statistic is much improved among the national average which is 5.9 percent, but food banks remain stressed.

“It was a shock to hear that food banks were having such difficulty,” said Janice Purcell of Lower Paxton Township.

“We are seeing a lot of the increased need over the last few years. Those families, they just aren’t making enough,” said Arthur.

Some point the finger at the minimum wage.

“You can’t just keep everybody at this low pay scale and expect them to thrive,” Morris said.

Others say an improvement needs to be made to allow the Midstate to grow and offer more sustainable jobs.

“Until we actually see that we are concerned, the need will stay at record levels,” said Arthur.

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