Democracy for America, led by project leader Leon Reed, has published an in-depth look at poverty in Adams County.
The report is a detailed investigation of the many factors, including job opportunities, affordable housing, public transportation, internet access, education, healthcare, and child care that affect poverty.
The report concludes that in many ways Adams County consists of two separate economies – one made up of relatively affluent professionals and a growing numbers of retirees from higher cost areas and the other consisting of people employed in low wage jobs whose life is a daily struggle to get by.
From the report: “While the visitors and students may primarily notice the battlefield, the ghost tours, the restaurants and bars, and the shops, Adams County is in fact a home for 100,000 people, many of whom struggle against poverty every day.”
According to the report, about 35% of the approximately 39,000 households in Adams County live in poverty or below the ALICE standard of $23,544 per year for an individual or $69,648 per year for a family four with young children — meaning they are unable to meet the bare minimum cost of household basics necessary to live and work in the modern economy.
New Oxford Township (55%), Gettysburg Borough (54%) and McSherrystown Borough (52%) have the highest percentage of residents living below the ALICE threshold. Carroll Valley (9%), Freedom and Reading Townships (20%), and Lattimore, Mount Joy, and Union townships (21%) have the lowest.
The report also reports the number of individuals eligible for supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP, or food stamps) (7%), and the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch (40% countywide).
The report paints a dim picture of the likelihood of improvement. “The workforce is not well prepared for the future or to support recruitment of the industries needed to create a prosperous and well balanced economy. Relative to the nearby counties it competes against, the Adams County workforce is older and less educated. The county suffers a major “brain drain” as local high school graduates don’t return after college and Gettysburg College graduates find nothing to keep them in the area after graduation. There is a huge achievement gap in local schools and the county suffers from significant health problems. Both of these problems are likely to become more serious as a result of the pandemic.”
The report said high tax rates, gaps in broadband coverage, and shortages of affordable housing, commercial space, and mass transportation limit the county’s growth potential.
The report said the pandemic would make things worse, noting that before the pandemic the unemployment rate in the county was just 3.9% but that the rate had jumped dramatically over the past year.
“The job structure of the new economy, where many jobs don’t pay a living wage and have few benefits and no stability, also leaves individuals – and society – more brittle, vulnerable to a short duration gap in income. The fact that so many lived so close to the edge – even in a time of full employment – will probably make recovery more of a challenge.”