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 2015-19, the median income in Berks was $63,700, slightly higher than the state and nation, but down 7% 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 2015-19 was $31,000. This was roughly half that of single men with children, at $50,000. Married couples without children had a median income of $89,000, compared to those with children, at $98,000. Income increased for all types of households in Berks since 2000, except single women with children which decreased 2%. 

Living wage measures the level of income that households require to pay for necessities, including housing and food, without assistance. In 2020, a family of four with two earners in Berks County would need to earn $19.03 per hour, or $79,200 a year. The living wage for a family of four with one earner was $28.64, or $59,600 a year, and for a single parent with two children, $34.48, or $71,700. 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 2015-19, Berks County’s poverty rate was 12%, similar to the state and nation. However, the county’s poverty rate rose 3 percentage points since 2000, a larger increase than at the state and national levels. The poverty rate was 26% in the Central region of the county, and ranged from 4% to 7% in other regions.

The percentage of working poor measures people who are working, but earning at or below the poverty line. In 2015-19, 3.2% 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 2018, 14% of Berks County residents received SNAP benefits – slightly more than at the state and national levels. This represented a threefold increase since 2000.

Adults Who are Overweight or Obese Not Applicable
Students in K-6 Overweight or Obese Not Applicable
Students in 7-12 Overweight or Obese Not Applicable
Physically Inactive Adults Not Applicable
Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch Increasing
Early Prenatal Care Increasing
Early Prenatal Care by Mother's Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Children Living in Poverty Increasing
Children Living in Poverty, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Single-Parent Families Increasing
Single-Parent Families by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Disengaged Youth Decreasing
Live Births to Teen Mothers Decreasing
Population by Age Not Applicable
Children with Elevated Blood Lead Levels Maintaining
Change in Population by Age and Gender Not Applicable
Change in Total Population by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Households by type Not Applicable
Foreign-Born Population Increasing
Seniors Living Alone Maintaining
Language Diversity Increasing
Unemployment Rate Increasing
Change in Labor Force Decreasing
Employment to Population ratio Decreasing
Change in Jobs by Sector Not Applicable
Sector Share of Total Jobs Not Applicable
Average Salary by Sector Not Applicable
Change in Average Salary by Sector Not Applicable
People Entering/Leaving County/Region for Work Not Applicable
Public Assistance Maintaining
Spending for Local Governments Maintaining
Spending for Counties Maintaining
Spending for School Districts Maintaining
Prekindergarten Participation Increasing
English Language Learners Increasing
Students Receiving Special Education Services Increasing
Per Student Spending Maintaining
High School Cohort Graduation Rate Increasing
Education Levels of Adults Not Applicable
Education Levels of Adults, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Brain Drain/Gain Maintaining
Plans of High School Graduates Not Applicable
Enrollment in Local Colleges Decreasing
Median Household Income Maintaining
Median Household Income by Household Type Not Applicable
Living Wage Not Applicable
People Living in Poverty Increasing
Working Poor Maintaining
People Receiving Federal Food Assistance Increasing
People Receiving Supplemental Security Income Increasing
Health Status Not Applicable
People Enrolled in Medicaid Managed Care Increasing
People Without Health Insurance Decreasing
Cancer Incidence Decreasing
Prevalence of Mental Illness Maintaining
Vacant Housing Units Increasing
Homeownership Rates Decreasing
Cost of Homeownership Maintaining
Cost of Homeownership, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Cost of Rent Increasing
Cost of Rent, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Single-Family Home Sales Increasing
Median Single-Family Home Sale Price Maintaining
Tourism Spending Maintaining
Voter Registration Rate Decreasing
Voter Participation Rate Decreasing
Average Charitable Giving Maintaining
Contributions as a Percentage of Income Maintaining
Households With Internet Access Not Applicable
Arts, Entertainment and Recreation Establishments Maintaining
Toxic Chemical Releases Decreasing
Violent Crimes Maintaining
Property Crimes Decreasing
Incarceration Rates Maintaining
Drug Abuse Offenses Increasing
Drug Abuse Arrests Increasing
Protection from Domestic Abuse Maintaining
Average Travel Time to Work Increasing
Crashes Involving Alcohol Decreasing
Households Without Vehicles Decreasing