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Social Services

The Social Services section of the report describes important indicators related to social service programs within Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Social services include government-funded services usually provided to those in need of essentials, such as health care, food, etc.

Numerous individuals throughout Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties and the Commonwealth face physical, economic, or social challenges. There is an ongoing need for social services to assist these citizens in their daily lives.

Keystone STARS

Keystone STARS is an initiative of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL). It was developed to improve, support, and recognize the continuous quality improvement efforts of early learning programs in Pennsylvania. Participating childcare and early learning programs are rated from one to four stars on several factors, such as teacher quality and adherence to safety regulations.

There has been significant year-to-year fluctuation in the number of participating centers. Both counties reached their highest levels in 2018, with 83 facilities in Lackawanna and 126 in Luzerne. Between 2018 and 2020, Luzerne County saw a decrease of ten STARS centers, and Lackawanna recorded a decline of three centers with at least 1 STAR. The number of 4-STAR (i.e. highest quality) centers has trended upward, however, and remained unchanged between 2019 and 2020 in both counties.

Keystone STARS Child Care Facilities

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Human Services OCDEL

Child Poverty

The statewide childhood poverty rate has shown a declining trend over the last few years, from 19.4 percent in 2015 to 16.8 percent in 2018, before marginally increasing to 16.9 percent in 2019. In most years, both Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties have had child poverty rates above the statewide rate. Both counties saw a jump in the childhood poverty rates between 2016 and 2017, and since then Luzerne County has seen a roughly level trend while Lackawanna County’s rate has fallen under 20 percent for the first time since 2016.

Percent of Children Under 18 Living Below the Poverty Level

Source: U.S. Census Bureau ACS 1-year Estimates

Food Stamps

The last decade has generally brought with it a marked increase in the number of households receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also called food stamps), both regionally and across Pennsylvania. A period of growth occurred from 2010 to 2014, coinciding with changes to program eligibility at the federal level. Further growth in the number of households receiving SNAP was seen from 2015 to 2018, but was more pronounced regionally than statewide. In 2019, the statewide total rose again, though small dips in the share of households receiving SNAP were seen in both counties, with the total number of households regionally number over 38,000. Other statewide indicators of SNAP indicated that a spike in enrollment was seen in 2020, coinciding with the pandemic.

Households Receiving SNAP (Food Stamps)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau ACS 1-year Estimates

Cash Assistance

Cash assistance programs, such as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), provide additional income assistance to those who cannot work and to households that do not earn enough from work to support themselves. Lackawanna County’s total number and share of households receiving cash assistance has fluctuated, but in 2019 reached the highest total seen since 2016 and the second highest since 2013. In Luzerne County, the number of cash assistance recipients increased year-over-year from 3.1 percent in 2014 to 4.9 percent in 2018, before falling in 2019 to the lowest levels seen in the last decade.

Households Receiving Cash Assistance

Source: U.S. Census Bureau ACS 1-year Estimates

Medical Assistance

Since 2011, there has been a substantial increase in the number of individuals eligible for Medical Assistance in the two counties. The percent of the population and total number of people eligible for Medical Assistance rose between 2013 and 2018, reaching nearly 27 percent of Lackawanna County residents and over 28 percent of Luzerne County residents. Rates of Medical Assistance eligibility have increased in recent years due to Pennsylvania’s expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. After the share of eligible individuals in the region plateaued in 2019, by July 2020, thousands more had become eligible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Total Persons Eligible for Medical Assistance

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. Percent of Population calculated using previous year’s population estimates from US Census Bureau. Prior years’ data has been updated.

Children’s Health Insurance

Statewide enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) grew significantly from 2017 to 2020. However, CHIP enrollment dropped in both counties and statewide in January 2021. It was reported that this shift is due to more families moving from CHIP into Medicaid due to changes in family income.

Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) Enrollment

Due to ACA changes and technical difficulties, older data is not comparable.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Human Services

Population over 65

The share of seniors (age 65 or older) among the Lackawanna County population rose from 19.5 percent in 2000 to 20.4 percent in 2019. This change was driven by both an increase in the county’s senior population and a decrease in its total population. As of 2019, seniors comprised 19.8 percent of the population in Luzerne County as well; this is a slightly smaller share of the county’s population than in 2000, but it has trended upward over the last several years. The statewide senior population has similarly trended upward – in 2019, 18.7 percent of the state population was at least 65 years old (up from 15.6 percent in 2000).

Population 65 Years and Older

Source: U.S. Census Bureau ACS 1-Year Estimates

Number of Senior Centers

In 2019 and in 2020, there were ten senior centers in Lackawanna County. The number of senior centers in Luzerne County has also remained consistent at 15. In both counties, there are about 2.3 to 2.4 senior centers per 10,000 residents aged 65 years or older.

Number of Senior Centers

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Aging

2020Per 1000 Residents Age 65+
Lackawanna102.34
Luzerne152.39

Disability Status

In both geographies, the percentage of individuals with a disability has fluctuated over the past five years. In Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties, the percentage of the population that has at least one disability has been consistently higher than the percentage in the Commonwealth – both counties averaged about 16 percent over the past five years, compared to the statewide five-year average of approximately 14 percent.

Of all disabilities reported in the two-county region, 27 percent were ambulatory disabilities, and another 21 percent were cognitive disabilities. Outside those, independent living disabilities were most frequently reported. Hearing, vision, and self-care disabilities each comprise smaller but still substantial amounts of all disabilities reported in the region. This breakdown has changed minimally over the past several years.

Population with a Disability

Source: U.S. Census Bureau ACS 1-year Estimates

Tax Credits

Certain tax credits function as a form of social aid to low- and middle-income families and individuals and play a large role in poverty alleviation. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a federal income tax credit that assists lower-income working households. It was received on nearly one in five Luzerne County tax returns in 2018. In that year, 16.7 percent of returns filed in Lackawanna County received the EITC. This is somewhat higher than the statewide rate of 14.5 percent. The average amount of the credit is around $2,300 in the region and statewide. Credits of this amount, when received as tax refunds, can make a significant impact on the financial stability of households. In both counties, the average size of the credit per return has generally grown in the past five years.

The Child Tax Credit was claimed by about 22 percent of households in both counties in 2018, a substantial increase over the last year but a slightly smaller percentage than in Pennsylvania as a whole. The significant increase in households claiming Child Tax Credits, and growth in the average size of the amount, are a result of expansion of the credit in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Tax Credits

Source: Internal Revenue Service