Jane Palmer is an activist and tireless fighter for the well-being of the City of Reading.
As you may have heard, the New York Times reported this week that according to new Census Bureau data, “Reading has earned the unwelcome distinction of having the largest share of its residents living in poverty, barely edging out Flint,
Mich.” The poverty rate is now 41.3%, which means that in the heart of Berks County, more than 36,000 men, women and children don’t have enough money to make ends meet.
These are huge and terrible numbers. They don’t tell the whole story, though. In response to Act 47 mandates and recommendations from the Rebuilding Reading Poverty Commission and other initiatives, City Hall is becoming more business-friendly and accountable. Rival mayoral candidates Vaughn Spencer and Jim McHale both have proposals to improve quality of life and make it easier for entrepreneurs to do business here.
Rebuilding Reading education recommendations fed directly into the school district’s new Strategic plan and prompted a powerful Reading Education Summit, held in March and bringing together for the first time the major stakeholders in public education. That work continues, and in April of 2012, we’ll hold a Youth Summit for 11th and 12th graders in the city.
Transformative private initiatives are also underway, including the Reading Roots Urban Farm launched by policy and governance committee member Eron Lloyd. Economic development chair Lenin Agudo, who joined with the Berks County Community Foundation on a Business Jump Start Center in downtown Reading, was recently named a 2011 Rising Star by the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce.
The press is focused on the bad news–and it is bad news–but Reading has rebuilt itself before and it can do it again. To do so we must have the support of our elected officials, starting with the passage of the American Jobs Act. We must have funding for infrastructure development and passenger rail, and a restoration of Governor Corbett’s recent savage cuts to education. Otherwise—while the super-rich get richer—a lot more people in Reading and Berks, including those who currently have jobs and who imagine they’re safely within the middle class, will fall into poverty.
This is no time for despair. Mother Jones famously said, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” Let’s fight like hell for our beloved city.