Summer recently arrived, and the 4th of July weekend is currently upon us. Groups of Adams County residents, as well as people all across the United States, are celebrating this (for some, an extended) weekend in typical fashion. That is, celebrating by vacationing at the beach, going to parades and watching fireworks, or hosting a ‘barbeque’ or party at their homes — many of which are complete with a patio, porch and/or backyard ideal for hosting such an event for friends and family. Perhaps this is your experience, with slight deviations from the description. However, this is certainly not the story for everyone in Adams County, PA.
For many in Adams County, this is another weekend in which they will spend the majority of it working — and likely more hours than normal in order to seize the opportunity with access to that holiday/overtime pay, not for extravagant spending but for basic survival.
We’re all aware that some people are in more- or less- privileged life circumstances, and that ways of keeping financially afloat will look different for different people.
However, I believe it’s worth pointing out the vast proportion of people in our county struggling to make ends meet to simply keep a roof over their and their families’ heads --let alone a space for entertaining — as well as the characteristics of people/families that experience this to a greater extent than most.
According to data collected through the Adams and York County Community Health Needs Assessment of 2018, 9.4% of people in Adams County, and 6.3% of all families in Adams County, have experienced poverty between the period of 2012-16. For female-headed households, with no husband present, the rate of poverty for this same period was 24%. Worth mentioning is that for these female-headed households consisting of related children under 18 years old, 35.0% experienced poverty. An increase in poverty was seen in these female-headed households with children under 5 years old, with a rate of 50.5%.
While poverty rates are an identifiable social problem that contribute to disparities in how people experience not just their holiday weekends, but so much more (e.g. access to health services/care, healthy foods, physically safe and well built and physically healthy environments), it is but one of many factors that help paint a picture of people’s lived experiences.
Maybe more interesting, shocking, or relevant for some are statistics related to and increasingly critical issue in Adams County: a severe shortage of housing in line with local income levels across Adams County. 42.81% of percent of renters, and 23.4% of homeowners in Adams County spend 30% or more of their income on rent or monthly housing costs, respectively.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines those families that spend more than 30% of their income for housing as ‘cost burdened’, and often also have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care, per HUD’s website.
To give things a local context, and to tie into the statistics I mentioned above (about rates of poverty for female-headed households with no husband), I’ll share a story of a woman who lives in Adams County, named Melissa.
Melissa was generous and brave enough to share her story with SCCAP via an intern of SCCAP who worked, in part, on the @Home in Adams County initiative in early 2019.
Melissa is a single mother with 3 children all under the age of five, both going to school full-time and working. When Melissa lived on her own for 6 months, she needed to take out the maximum available loans and put all of the money she was making towards her rent. Even with the assistance that she received, she could not afford to stay in her home.
She lives with her father now, where her rent mostly consists of performing chores around the house and purchasing household items like laundry detergent. She is incredibly grateful to her father, but knows he would love to have his house back.
She talks about how difficult it is to save because she is still having to put out just as much as she is bringing in. With 3 young children, her availability to work is limited to when the children are in daycare and she is not at school.
Although she sometimes questions postponing school to allow herself to work full-time to afford living now, she understands how important education is and everyday pushes through to balance school, work and being a single mother. Some of the issues she’s encountered include extremely long waiting lists and finding a place within the price budget for this area.
Melissa is currently studying Business at HACC and plans to get her Business Administration Associates, then transfer to a 4 year college. She wants to take real estate classes to get her license in the Fall to help cover costs.
Melissa is hopeful, and says, “I just strive to be the strongest independent woman I can possibly be for myself and for my children.”
You may be wondering what can be done or what is being done right now on a local level? Well, there is a newly formed organization, @Home in Adams County beginning its journey to tackle these very issues: housing, transportation and livable wages.
It was formed, in part, by areas identified in the Community Needs Assessment but also through the insight of local organizations in the area that saw the need to address these very important issues.
@Home In Adams County is funded through a grant it received from the Adams County Community Foundation and is a community engagement of South Central Community Action Programs.
Since its inception, the @Home In Adams County Coalition continues to grow and includes: the Adams County Community Foundation, Adams County Housing Authority, Adams County Office of Aging, Adams County Office of Planning and Development, Adams Economic Alliance, Destination Gettysburg, Gettysburg College, Harrisburg Area Community College, Healthy Adams County, United Way of Adams County, Wellspan Health, and South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP) and local community members.
If you want to learn more or get involved in this community engagement initiative, please visit www.homeinadamscounty.org.
I hope that the 4th of July weekend will not just be a time of remembrance of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but a time of reflection on this document’s statement on human rights. In particular, I’ll reference, as president Lincoln did in his Gettysburg Address of 1863, the document’s second sentence, which states that “are created equal”; all are endowed with “certain unalienable rights”; and that among these rights are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. Wouldn’t it be nice if all, in pursuit of happiness and a less-burdened life, might be able to devote much less than 30% of their income on simply having a safe and sound place to live, and as well as be provided a wage that is in line with the cost of living in the community in which they reside?