Morning Must Reads: High Unemployment Strains the Safety Net and Underwater Mortgages

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports this morning on the continued strain that high unemployment is putting on the safety net in Pennsylvania.

There are 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania so short of cash that they qualify for food stamps. That translates to 14.4 percent of the state's population receiving at least part of their food budget from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The slow economic recovery from the Great Recession is not yet translating into personal recoveries...

Pennsylvania does not keep unemployment trend records on a month-by-month basis but in the fourth quarter of 2011, 33 percent of the state's unemployed had been out of work for more than six months and the state's labor force participation rate was 62.8 percent, lower than in the fourth quarter of any of the previous three years...

When Just Harvest advertised a part-time job paying $12 an hour to help people apply for food stamps, the agency was inundated with applications — including people with doctorates seeking a job that just required some education past high school.

Laura Tobin Goddard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center in Enola, Cumberland County, said food pantries around Harrisburg are still reporting seeing a lot of new faces even 2 1/2 years after the recovery began.

Her agency, which is also a nonprofit that helps people access government programs and directs them to food pantries, received 500 calls in 2007 from people seeking assistance. Now it receives 100 calls a month.

Those of you betting that 2012 will mark the year the housing market in Pennsylvania came roaring back need to pay up. The Pocono Record reports on the percentage of borrowers that owe more on their homes than those homes are worth if they were put up for sale.

Almost half the homes in Monroe County are worth less than what homeowners owe on their mortgages, according to a recent study.

That's the highest "underwater" rate in the state, according to data from RealtyTrac.

The data show nearly one-third of all Monroe County homes are seriously underwater. That's where borrowers owe at least 25 percent more on their mortgages than their property is worth...

By comparison, about 27 percent of homeowners across the state are, on average, underwater.

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